Sunday, April 09, 2017


We were huddled up around the soup station. Sadie loves soup. Joe loves soup, I like soup and wanted to see what the veggie options were, Ruby reviles soup and was just with us to see what decisions were being made before she went over to the mac and cheese station. Joe was reading off the labels as to the kinds of soup available. We were together, we were a group. A man, on the other side of the station, looks to me, and says to me, "Can I help you get something." I startled say, "No, thanks though." He nodded and continued on getting soup for his family

Later, when we were leaving the cafeteria I got to the doors out only to find that the door opener wasn't working. A large group had gotten between me and Joe and the kids so I just stopped to let the group pass and then rejoin mine. One of the group held the door open and told me to go along through. I thanked him but said no. The area around the elevator up is small, I didn't want to get trapped in the larger group. I wanted to wait. He insisted. I said, "No, I'm here with my family, I will wait for them." He insisted again. I said 'no' again. He insisted again. I explained again, "I'm waiting for my family, please go on through." Then Joe, Ruby and Sadie arrive, by now most of his group has gone through the door. The kids see what's happening and run to take the door from the man to hold for me. He has trouble letting them take the door but he does. "I really thought that you were alone," he said, smiling.

The natural state for people with disabilities, or at least people with disabilities that look like me, is alone.

People have trouble thinking of us as being part of a loving social group.

People seem to actively want to think of us as sad, isolated, people, loved by none, included by no one.

In their minds, that's what disabilities does.

It separates.

It isolates.

It culls.

The man by the soup station, even though I was clearly part of a group, couldn't see that group, he saw a person alone, and person who needed help. I can't even imagine how desperately dark and depressing the scene he must have been seeing. The context for me being there he created sprung from somewhere.

The man holding the door simply couldn't believe me when I said I was with a 'family'. He saw me as alone. He saw me as needing help. Another dark and depressing picture. Another projection of inner stereotype on outer reality. He heard what I said and must have thought that I was making up an invisible family in a desperate attempt to be seen as normal, and as loved, and as worthy. His surprise when they showed up was written on his face in the colours of prejudice. 

This to me, is the most dangerous idea that has wormed it's way into the minds of the non-disabled. 

Disability creates isolation.

Disability is a separator.

Disability erases love and replaces it with need and dependency.

Objects of pity.

But, wait.

I sit in my chair unalone.

Already, and continuously, human.

Already, and continuously, loved.

I am unalone and unavailable for pity.

Both men shook their heads one at my refusal of his help, the other when the girls took the door from him. I was no use to them. No part of the story they wanted to tell. What good is disability if it doesn't feed the need of the non-disabled to be inspired by their own kindness and their own goodness? 

They shook their heads.

A denial of what they'd seen and heard.

Because to challenge prejudice is such hard work.

So why do it?


Unknown said...

Because their assumptions are lies, and your lived experience is reality, and truth.
There are many ambulatory people who are lonely, even when they are with people, including their family members.....
it is your visible difference that emboldens strangers to act on their assumptions in an attempt to be kind, at least in their own minds. And it makes you the recipient of unwanted attention and repeated opportunities to teach, even when you only want your lunch!
hope this didn't spoil a day with your family, living ordinary life

Ron Arnold said...

Sometimes I'd read your entries and I'd think, "Damn, Dave - you're irritated a lot."

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted a very good video on microaggression as mosquito stings. A single mosquito bite is no big deal to a person who isn't attractive to mosquitoes, but to a person who smells good to mosquitoes and gets bitten frequently - even just the high pitched buzz of one can be enough to elicit a negative response.

Now . . . I think. "Damn, Dave puts up with a lot of mosquitoes."

Ron Arnold said...

The video:

Andrea Shettle, MSW said...

Ron, I think this is the first I've heard of microaggressions being compared to mosquito stings -- though if it works, then sure I guess you could make that comparison.

I've also heard of microaggressions being compared to Chinese water torture -- where one drop of water drips onto you, and then another and another and another. Or, they've also been compared to pin pricks, where you are accidentally pricked with a pin, and then another and another. Each one in isolation is nothing, if it were just one, or even five or 10, it wouldn't be a big deal. You would just shake it off and move on. But when you experience the same thing 30, 50, 100 times and more, then there's a cumulative effect, and that's what makes it so stressful.

I know this is what I feel about many of the microaggressions that I experience too. Since I am a deaf walking woman who is overweight but not as large as Dave, the particular microaggressions that I experience are not the same as the ones Dave experiences. But, yes, when these things keep happening it can get quite irritating and frustrating.

Unknown said...

Many disabled people really are alone, unloved, forced out of 'normal' society and all those other pitiful stereotypes that you dismiss because they're not your own fortunate experience. It isnt an unreasonable fear/prejudice in able bodied minds, its the actual reality many of us live.