Let your voice be heard
(Disclaimer: the purpose of this is not necessarily to make negative remarks about the system in place. It is simply to bring awareness about the invisible aspect of being noticeably disabled. Also, I am not insecure with my situation. This is just the realities of my situation that are hidden sometimes even from myself).
Often times I find myself in an unusual situation. I might be in class, a meeting or just walking around when my brain pulls me from my reality and puts me into a weird thought. Too often I find myself wondering how my life would be different if my physical appearance was different. I fall into the trap of my brain which pushes me to dislike my circumstances. I’ve come to the realization this form of thinking is unacceptable. While I can change the way I think about myself, can those around me learn to look past my physical attributes?
You may not know me and you may not have seen me; but if and when you do, the first thing you’ll define me by is not my smile, it’s not my words, it’s not my laugh nor is it my clothes. You’ll define me by the thing i’m strapped to. You’ll define me by the way I get around my campus or the way I grab my food. You’ll define me by the way I do the things you take for granted. Stop. Stop defining me by these things and define me by my personality, my professionalism, my words and my caring character. My wheelchair does not define me. The fact that I cannot reach certain things does not define me. Every time you choose to wrongly define who I am you miss out on the amazing opportunities I can bring you from my friendship to my smile.
Here’s something you might not know. All of the people who I know who live with some form of a disability can sense when you judge him or her. As much as the judger attempts to hide their thoughts, we know what you’re thinking. To partially comprehend how we can do this you must put yourself in our situation. Imagine you are a high school or college student who has a noticable disability. Naturally, you would likely already be insecure of your body or the way you look, the acne on your face or your weight. Now put having a noticeable disability into that mix. Your insecurities become larger than ever. You begin to notice the stares you receive and the fact that, in certain cases, the girls only talk to you if they have to. And boys, do not even think about talking to a boy because this only happens when it is absolutely necessary. You can also sense the hesitation people have when approaching you. Imagine the fear of approaching every door. Is this door heavy? Is someone going to offer to open this door? Will the “automatic open” button work or will I face embarrassment because it does not work? And God forbid the elevators do not work. While the rest of society has the luxury of using an elevator to get from floor to floor, you would not. Therefore, when you are waiting in front of the elevator and you notice the time you wait is longer than usual the thoughts start spewing in your mind again. Is this going to be one of those times when I have to be seen waiting for an elevator that is not going to come? The people who have the luxurious access to the elevator will meet you in the elevator waiting zone and walk away to use the stairs after they realize what is happening knowing that you were there before them and after them. How would you feel knowing they will meet their friends and bring up the situation in casual conversation? The fear and anxieties of sending your professor or friends an email or text message to cancel whatever plans you had because you are simply trapped and have no means to escape. Imagine that. If there were to be a fire drill or a real fire, you would have to wait patiently in a “AREA of refugee”-aka the stairwells- while the rest of the building population speeds down the stairs. To make matters more tense, you have to select two people who you think will stop to hear you out. One will stay with you until the firefighters can rescue you and the other must inform the firefighters of your location so they can come to you and carry you down the flights of stairs (which is not fun either). Think about the thoughts that would rush through your head in this situation. What are all of those people going to say about me when they address the situation with others? How are they going to describe me?
My point is that I, along with others, must face these fears and more on a daily basis. It is not fun or pleasing or even a joke. This is an enormous part of my life. I live in some constant fear that something outside of my control is going to change the dynamics of my day. When I have to enter an unknown building I cannot help but start thinking of a Plan B in case I cannot reach my destination because of stairs or some other factor which will prevent me from getting to my destination. The biggest fear of all is being an inconvenience to others. In the end, I still move along with my day. I do not let the annoying part of being disabled get in my way of tackling another task. When someone says I cannot do something because of my disability I do it and I do it better than they could have imagined I could do it. You may not understand what I am truly going through as a result of my disability and I hope that you never have to go through them. Regardless of what may happen throughout my day, I still roll along with a smile on my face, a “have a nice day” will still dance free from my lips, and I will still be forced to plug in my wheelchair when it is dying.
The next time you see me or anyone else in a situation similar to mine, remember that they may have just been the victim of some inconvenience. Also remember the people in this unique community are no different that one of your friends or family members except for the fact that we have one more rock in our path that will always need to be jumped over. Our lives have their ups and downs but most of us choose to show off a positive attitude. The physical does not define us because we will not let it.
I am not what you think I am. I am who you do not know I am.
bendecida ha sido con unos
pómulos de latón, piel de cobre y un corazón de oro,
gracias a sus ancestros.
Her ancestors gifted her with
a heart of gold
You are intelligent. You are beautiful.
You are seen. You are heard.
You are loved. You are cosmic.
You are life. You are celestial.
You are survival. You are art.
You are admired. You are appreciated.
You are fierce. You are remembered.
You are enough.