Last week I competed in a disability sporting event. At one point I glanced around the room and thought, “God, I feel so average here.” So many people with a variety of disabilities. A woman driving her wheelchair around using her chin. There were oxygen tanks and speech devices.
Yes, I’d have to do or say something drastic in order to stand out here. And because everybody here either has a disability or knows someone who has, they tend to talk directly to me. In fact I expected people – many strangers – to address me. It’s a strange feeling.
Whenever I meet someone who actually talks to me like an adult and judges me by my actions and not my disability, I end up wondering about the source of their open-mindedness. To use a cheesy phrase, what enabled them to ‘look beyond the chair’? In my experience, it’s not the default mindset. I used to think it had something to do with intelligence until I entered college and then university. In university a student studying mechanical engineering assumed I didn’t know how to cross the road and so gave me step by step instructions. He spoke to me like a child while discussing the intricacies of sex and drugs with my carer. It was up to me to prove I was actually quite smart, but you could recite the full works of Shakespeare at this guy to no effect. Many experiences like this showed me that you can be smart at a complex subject but totally fail at simple logic (what was I doing at university if I had the IQ of a six year old?)
I think most of it comes down to life experience. For better or worse, our childhood affects the way we see the world. Every parent should shove their child in front of a wheelchair or something, get them to interact with someone disabled. Of course this assumes that the parents themselves aren’t ignorant or scared of disability. Reduce and eliminate any fears before they can grow into ignorance. Also, let’s have more disabled people on kids’ TV please. Sometimes it isn’t straight forward but let’s not get into that now (spoiler: adults suck).