Being disabled and society’s view… “We” aren’t that different from everyone else.

By on August 12, 2013
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    Ok, so this won’t exactly seem like it fits with the whole “meant to be” theme as I get into this one… but… but I will say I KNOW I was meant to be disabled… Sounds silly, right? Not to me…

Let me explain a little bit about my disability first though…

    I was born with a disability called Spina Bifida. It is basically where your spinal cord & the column fails to close properly. Because of that, I use a wheelchair. I learned to walk at age 3… I walked almost completely full-time from age 3, until about age 18. I still walked, with the aid of leg braces, but I started relying on the chair a little bit in jr. high & high school, to go between class changes, but I still walked at home. I basically only used it for long distances. Then, when I got to college, I started using it basically full-time, because I was getting weaker and the college is so big, it just was too hard to not start relying on it. I have almost complete feeling (with the exception of parts of my feet). I can’t bend my ankles or wiggle my toes, but I am still able to walk a little bit if I need to. I fully believe that God created me this way for a reason.

    I believe I was meant to be disabled. It wasn’t a punishment to my parents for whatever reason. It was so that I could be “inspirational” to others… I hate even thinking of myself as an inspiration, but I guess I’ll take it, compared to the alternative. I don’t see myself as disabled, but society does. I feel like society in general, views people with disabilities as having a lesser quality of life. I think this is, in part, because I know for a fact that how independent you are as a disabled person growing up, has to do with how your family treats you. If parents with disabled children spend their whole lives “protecting” them or treating them “different”, the person with a disability will either settle for that, or they will do whatever they have to do prove everyone wrong. I chose to take the second one. Once I went through the “awkward teenage years”, I started feeling like I didn’t fit in. No boy was interested in me, until high school… and I only had one serious boyfriend (who was able-bodied) throughout high school, so that always made me self-conscious. So even if I was attractive, because I’m in a chair, guys would never see me as attractive next to the able-bodied girl who was of equal body/facial attractiveness to me, because I am in a chair. Unfortunately, even married, I am still self-conscious about that. I often find myself asking myself internally “Am I as pretty as that girl?” and it made me try even harder to stand out. Even now, I have heard from people (directly or  indirectly) either “She’s so pretty, for a girl in a chair!” or “Wow, you’re so pretty!” (As if in shock that a disabled person can be viewed as attractive). Talk about a double-sided compliment… This has always bothered me, but I am pretty comfortable in my own skin, because I know I have many strengths.

    I feel like society automatically thinks “we” (as disabled people) are unable to achieve certain things… I WANTED to be independent, and I have never let my disability slow me down. I went to public school, took regular classes, went to college to become a teacher (I decided on my own to stop going, because I wasn’t happy being in school. It had nothing to do with my disability), I got married, have started trying to have a family, I’ve held jobs, and I have goals and dreams just like everyone else, and there is absolutely nothing in regards to my disability that will keep me from achieving my dreams. I can honestly say that BECAUSE of my disability, I’ve probably done more in my life than I would have, if I just blended into the crowd. I competed in and won a pageant, I was on the first-ever wheelchair cheer leading/dance team, I’ve water-skied, snow-skied, done some public speaking, etc… etc… etc… I don’t mean to sound like I’m bragging. I just want to make the point that I have gone after a lot more opportunities in life because they were more easily available to me, because I am disabled.

    One of the biggest things that my disability taught me was compassion… Compassion for people. Compassion for situations people struggle with… Compassion towards all types of differences in people. I’m very open-minded when becoming friends with someone. If they’re a nice person and good to me, I don’t care what their race, sexual orientation, gender, etc… is. I feel like in society, we lack that as a whole. I’m not saying I’m not judgmental, because we ALL are to a certain degree. I’m just thankful that I was given the ability to know how to treat people with kindness and compassion. I may not be able to help someone move from one apartment to the other, but I can lend a hand somewhere else, and I take pride in knowing that I married someone with those same traits.

    I’m side-tracking though… Sometimes people get so wrapped up in labels: “gay, disabled, black, whatever”… That we forget to treat people like they have feelings and that those feelings can get hurt. I have no idea why people feel the need to point out other people’s flaws… but they do. For me, it’s the chair… Wes & I get comments like “Slow down!” “You’re breaking the speed limit!” “Who’s gonna win the race?” and sound effects made at us CONSTANTLY, and it baffles me. We are almost 28 & 30 years years old. Most people wouldn’t do these things to us, and him especially if they knew he was a Marine… and they certainly wouldn’t do it to a “normal” or typical 28 & 30 year old. I don’t know why we get treated this way. It’s frustrating and they think it’s funny or clever, and it really just makes these people look ignorant when we don’t acknowledge their comments and keep on going. Most people wouldn’t look at an obese person and say “Why don’t you have another cheeseburger?” because they know it’s not an appropriate comment to make. I’m not sensitive to being in a chair, but these comments we get, should not be made. It makes me feel like I’m less of a human being this way.

    On the flip side, I hate special treatment… If I’m in line behind someone, I don’t want to get in front of them, just because they want to “do something nice for the disabled person”. I appreciate kindness, like opening a door or offering to help me with something, but when I say “No thank you, but I appreciate the offer”, just stop… and don’t continue doing the action if I’ve said “No thank you.” because to me that is so disrespectful. People are constantly asking when I’m out ALONE if I need help putting my chair together or taking it apart… Although I DO appreciate the offer, do you really think I was just sitting at Wal-mart, hoping and praying someone would just happen to walk by at the exact moment I was getting out of my car? If I drove there in my own car alone, I can probably handle getting my chair together. I’m not saying that everyone should stop offering to help people who are disabled or stop being helpful to other people in general. I’m saying that there are boundaries. Wes & I are generally faster in our chairs than most people are walking, but that doesn’t mean you have to jump out of my way if I get near you. I can go around you if I need to, or I can patiently wait.

    Another (and probably the last issue I will address in this entry) is that it seems as if people tend to treat being “different” as “bad” or “negative” thing. I love children, and I especially love fearless, curious children… but what I despise is parents who pull their children away if they touch my wheel (Kids LOVE wheels, btw), they shush them when they ask their parent “Why is she in that thing?” or say things like “Don’t ask her that.” You are sending the wrong message… You are teaching them that being curious is wrong and that being “different” is wrong/bad/negative, and that is not okay. Their questions are purely for curiosity’s sake and it’s okay to ask questions, because that is how they learn. Parents wouldn’t tell their children to not ask their teachers a question that they didn’t know the answer to… This shouldn’t be any different.

    In closing, I do love people and I hope and pray that I can help someone in my life. I love helping people, and I hope that if I am going to be an “inspiration”, that it isn’t just because I drove myself to Wal-mart, but that it’s more about not letting my disability define me. I hope that I can be an inspiration because I can teach someone (even if it is one person) a valuable lesson in some way. Being in a wheelchair is NOT the end of the world. Life isn’t as different for me as people think it is… and finally, I’m still a person. Don’t treat me unkind or even more “special” because of it. I’m Lindsey. There is a lot to me. I am unique. I am an individual. I have strengths & weaknesses, just like everyone else. I’m not my wheelchair. That is why I was meant to be disabled… to help the world see disabled people in a more positive, or at least a more “normal” light.

  1. Reply

    This entry is perfection!

    • Wes
    • August 12, 2013

    I think you nailed it. I wish more people could see this line – "if I am going to be an 'inspiration', that it isn't just because I drove myself to Wal-mart, but that it's more about not letting my disability define me"

    • Jen
    • August 12, 2013

    Well said Lindsey 🙂

  2. Reply

    I so relate to so much of this as a disabled woman. I'm loving your blog by the way

  3. Reply

    This is well said and echoes a lot of my own thoughts as a woman who was born with a disability!

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