When you have a physical limitation, to get through a day requires so much awareness to what is around you. How long will it take to get to meetings? Whether you can enter a building in the front. Maybe you have go through the only assessable door to end up on the opposite end the elevator is on to arrive one floor up and on the opposite side where the meeting is. Sometimes it feels like you’re being punished for not being able bodied.
If I have learned one thing it is that the world was not made for me. The world was made for the able bodied society for which I will never be a part of.
For most of my life, I wanted to be super woman. I would rather take the extra mile than ask for help. There was nothing more I hated then to have to have visible assistance like a wheelchair or a walker. I wore thick plastic braces and a walking pattern that Houdini himself could not hide. When I couldn’t walk any further, I would be put in a wheel chair and any independence disappeared.
Granted I spent most of my days utterly exhausted. The wheel chair or a walker became a thing of the past, as I grew older. Strictly to be used for utter exhaustion. Everything changed when I decided to go to college in Massachusetts. The winters were an entity of it’s own. I started using a walker to get around. Something I was used to in my younger days. Wheels can make all the difference. Winter wasn’t a death trap anymore. However, the world was unforgiving. I learned quickly that it doesn’t matter what I could do or what I wanted. Independence was at the kindness of other people and the environment.
If the door wasn’t automatic, I could not get through. It is quite a challenge to open a door and then keep it open while pulling a walker through. My other choice was to wait on the off chance someone would come by. The situation I described in the first paragraph was my daily walk to class for a semester.
Before this, I never wanted to be a burden. I wanted to stay under the radar as much as I could. My mother would be angrier than me with someone in a handicap parking spot without a sticker. Sometimes it felt like everyone was watching me. I didn’t know the exclusion of not being able to go outside on a snow day. I didn’t know that one automatic door made all the difference. I didn’t know how limited the world made me. The lack of accessibility in the environment just means that the people I am with have to do more work on my behalf or go without. I will never fully understand because I have the choice as of now to go places where accessibility isn’t.
Anger comes at this realization because it made me feel less than for another thing. People with disabilities should be able to go anywhere they want not being hindered by the environment. There are many variables to this such as the weather, but I don’t want to be stopped by a lack of ramp. Realistically, the Americans for Disabilities act have only been in existence for the last twenty-four years. Progress is going to take time. Buildings are being built with assessable points, but what about old buildings? America is ahead of the game in this area. I don’t want to complain, but how do we as people with disabilities fight for our rights? Where do we balance?
This has got to be one of the hardest topics I’ve written about so far because of this reason. I still struggle finding the nice middle ground. I’m content, but I don’t want to settle for the status quo. We deserve to be able to go about our lives. Don’t settle. Disablities do not make us less than. We are different and it’s great. Ask for what you need and if they don’t listen keep asking or change direction. Independence is a gift. A treasure we as people with disabilities value highly. I write this not to get my frustrations out though at many times have felt it. The world is not fair. When is it ever? I hope to raise awareness at the forefront.
It took me a long time to not feel like a victim in this society. To focus on what I have and not on what I don’t. Having a disability has taught me many life lessons. Some that hurt such as people don’t want to slow down. People may stare and kids may point. You wonder why you or your child has to struggle for things that come so easy physically for other people. I don’t know where you are in the journey of self acceptance. I want to encourage you disability builds strength. You are stronger than you ever think you are. Don’t let others stop you. A lack of accessibility means you just have to be creative. Whether it’s socially, physically, or emotionally you struggle with disability. Your time will come I promise.
My college had a Beyond disabilities week which I was on the committee for. One of the things we really promoted was the Assessable Icon Project, which features a person in a wheelchair in motion. New York has adopted the icon for all handicap parking spots. Change takes time, but as Ghandi once said “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Maybe the world was not made for us, but we can help change it.
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