I think I speak, 'disabled'.
Cause what comes out of my mouth is clear - to me, seems able to convey meaning - to me, seems plain and simple without much complexity - to me. But without question I'm speaking a completely different language.
Like the other day:
Since becoming a wheelchair user, I've been trying to increase my mobility and ability to deal with everyday obstacles. I've conquered both sets of doors going out in both my power and manual wheelchairs. I'm OK with coming in in my manual chair, this is a recent set of accomplishments.
Now I'm really trying to figure how to get in the front double doors in my power chair, on my own. As Joe and I are on our way home from any particular outing, I scoot ahead and try to negotiate the door. I get in maybe 40 percent of the time. It's not too frustrating because I know that Joe will be along in a few minutes if I get stuck. I pulled up to the door and began to manoeuvre the chair such that I can get through the door. A fellow standing several feet away came running towards me to help me, I called out - obviously in disability speak - 'No, its OK, I'm practicing getting in on my own.' He kept coming. I called again, 'Really, this is just practice for me, I don't need help.' He kept coming. When he got to the door he grabbed it and opened the one side I was struggling with. I said, 'Really, I'm simply trying to learn to get in on my own.' He said, and I'm quoting here, 'No problem, glad to help.'
Like the other day:
I'm pushing my way over to the car in the outside parking lot. I've been pumping iron (really) to increase my ability to push further and further without help. A woman saw me pushing and dashed over to the side near the building and stopped dead, waiting for me to pass. The sidewalk is very, very wide. I said, again in that odd language called 'disabled' ... 'It's OK there's lots of room.' She smiled and moved closer to the wall. I said, 'Really, there's lots of room.' She said, and I'm quoting here, 'That's alright, I'll give you all the room you need.'
Like the other day:
I got off the elevator rushing to get through the doors and down the driveway. I'm pushing myself quickly because I'm trying to get to the top of the underground parking lot driveway before Joe gets there with the car. I've never made it. This time I tired out just around the corner of the block. It's a hard push because the sidewalk slopes a lot so I have to push primarily with my left arm. But I try as hard as I can. I had made it past the tree ... a new record for me and I stopped to wait for Joe. A passerby on the other side of the street called to me, 'Are you alright?' I called back, 'I'm fine, I'm just waiting for my friend.' She called, 'I'll come wait with you.' I called, 'No, I'm fine, he'll be here in a minute.' She said, and I'm quoting here, 'Don't worry, I've got lots of time.'
I know I'm being churlish here, all these people are being 'nice' and I should be pleased that they aren't being 'nasty' ... but, and it's a big BUT, could you just listen to a moment to what I'm saying. Stop listening to what the stereotype cripple is saying loudly in your head and listen to what the real cripple is saying out loud in the real world. Is it so much to ask?
I wrote the above several hours ago, I was sitting on the couch watching an episode of Johnathon Creek when I started thinking about my life as a service provider. Like when I first started ...
a boy with Down Syndrome struggling to tie his shoe, I said, 'I'll help,' he said, 'I can do it myself,' I said, and I'm quoting here, 'that's OK, I'm here to help.'
a man with a disability on an 'outing' with me to MacDonald's said that he wanted to go buy his food by himself, I said, and I'm quoting here, 'I don't mind going up with you.'
a woman with a disability in a group home said, 'I'm not tired,' I said, and I'm quoting here, 'yes you are, it's your bedtime.'
So, maybe I can remember these now because I now speak 'disability' ... I hereby apologize to all those I didn't listen to in the real world, to those whose words I replaced with my own, to those whose meaning was clear but my comprehension hampered by my stereotypes, my role and primarily my power.
It pisses me off.
It must have pissed you off too.