"I guess it's all in the attitude," she said sounding completely disbelieving.
My cousin is coming to Toronto for some medical tests and we are talking on the phone. I haven't seen her in years and, as we aren't a really close family, catching up a bit. I asked her if she knew if I was in a wheelchair and her breath caught in her throat as she said, "Oh, no, I'm sorry."
I explained to her that there was nothing much to be sorry about. My life was a bit more complex than it was before, but that I hadn't been affected that much by my disability. I still have a job, still live in my home, still do what I've always done. Being fat my whole life meant that I wasn't the 'runner, jogger, let's climb a mountain' type ... I was a let's go to a dinner and a movie type - things that are well suited to a life on wheels.
As we talked I could hear the absolute disbelief in her voice. I could almost see her 'imaginings' of life in a wheelchair - and what it would mean to her. But this wasn't about her, this is about me. After a few minutes of trying to convince her that everything really was OK, she sighed again and again congratulated me on my 'attitude'.
I'm optimistic, I've said that here before, but optimistic doesn't mean dim-witted as many seem to think. It doesn't mean that I don't notice how the world really operates, it just defines how I operate within that world. What frustrates me is this 'disbelief' that my life could have as much value now as it did then. This patronizing, "Good on you for holding on to hope in the light of such distressing circumstances" attitude I sometimes get from the non-disabled and more distressingly from some with disabilities as well.
Much of what I believe to be disability prejudice (and, of course. disability self hatred) comes from the belief that a disabled life is a life 'less than' a typical life. We just watched 'Over There' a box set of the television programme set in the present day Iraq war which focuses on a group of young military officers. Near the end of the series they talk about a young man who had lost his leg to a bomb. This guy is back home, living with his wife and child, engaging in incredible acts of physical bravery ... but none of them know that, they are out of contact with him. They all say that they believe in 'death over dismemberment'. They'd rather be dead than a member of the disabled classes.
Now, I don't think that my cousin's sigh meant all that. But I do think that the attitude of 'oh no' that the idea that a wheelchair (or walker or cane or other enabling devise) is a symbol of ultimate humiliation and defeat is a frightening one. Sorry, I don't buy it. Never have.
But I will say that in my cousin's sigh was all that I want to fight against.
Beyond prejudice we need to fight presumption.