Friday, June 30, 2017


"I don't like being referred to as 'the wheelchair.'"

I said it calmly and as 'matter of fact' as I possibility could. After being in a wheelchair for over a decade some of the emotion has drained out of my protests, which in some cases is a really good thing. I just want people to know that I object to how I'm being, pick one, ignored, passed over, stared at, invisibilized, or experiencing anti-anthropomorphization (taking human characteristics out of a human being or an organization run by humans).

While I have learned to speak calmly about these kinds of incidents, the reaction is rarely calm. I find that instead of a simple, 'Oh, you're right, I'm sorry,' I am mostly told that I am wrong, that I didn't hear right, or, the most common, "THAT'S NOT WHAT I MEANT." It angers people to be asked to speak respectfully to me as a disabled person.

Really angers them, or most of them at least.

I'm not sure why they react so strongly. Part of it is, I believe, that they see me immediately as 'uppity' and their natural assumption of a hierarchy wherein they get to speak of me however they wish but I do not get to challenge them in any way.

In this instance she stated that she was referring to my wheelchair, not me, which oddly was my point, and then she began directing us to go where we needed to go.Her face showed fury and she struggled to remain calm.

It's a small incident, hardly worth notice, but I wanted to write about it because it's these small interchanges, these little conflicts, which happen almost daily, wherein I think I'm right at the forefront of social change. I believe all of us who are different or disabled, every time we go out, every time we expect respect, make a difference.

Sometimes 'resistance' is a tiny act of assertion or a small ask for respect.


Shannon said...

Being referred to as a wheelchair is one of my least favorite things about using a wheelchair. It tends to happen most often on public transport or in crowds. "Let the wheelchair through." "A wheelchair is coming off." I correct this and say "person in a wheelchair" which probably makes people impatient, but sometimes I get some looks or comments of agreement from people nearby. It's just kind of jarring, being referred to as an object, when you know if you were not using a device you'd never be called anything but a person.

Jenni said...

Living a 'normal' life is a political act when you're a visually-identifiable disabled person. For me it's probably the most exhausting part of having become a wheelchair user. And I say this as someone with an illness which is so exhausting that on most days I'm bed-bound, just so I can have enough energy to go into the office for work one morning a week (the rest I work from home). But I agree with you - we're the pioneers who change the world for future generations of disabled people so they don't have to deal with people being numpties all the blinking time.

Amanda said...

I hope the reason they react so strongly is not because they are angry but because they are abashed and embarrassed. Which I hope turns into a teaching moment for them and they do A LOT better the next time around. Hope springs eternal...

Andrea Shettle, MSW said...

"Small incidents" like these are called microaggressions, and although these are "small" or "micro" taken one at a time, they add up to a really big deal. Which is why we have a word for it in the first place, and why people need to talk about these microaggressions. One swipe of sandpaper on wood may not cause a noticeable difference in the feel or appearance of the wood. But if you keep rubbing away then eventually you could sand away the wood until it's so thin it breaks. And that's what microaggressions do to the soul.

Andrea S.

Namaste said...

People get angry because they know they are in the wrong. Period.

ABEhrhardt said...

Asking for what you want from 'professionals' implies immediately they are not doing their job. They don't like it.

Tough cookies. They are NOT doing their job if you have to ask.

And it applies to many more situations and many more people, so they'd better get used to it.