When you have a physical disability, sometimes it feels like the most attention you get on campus isn’t from friends… it’s from people staring at the way you walk, look, talk, or get around. It’s a sad fact, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. USC is a very versatile, friendly, and adaptable campus even though it doesn’t feel that way sometimes. But let’s face it; we don’t live in a world that’s always friendly either. So instead of keeping your head down as you go from class to class so that you don’t see the stares, I’ve found a way to make friends with those people that are staring. Want to hear the secret?
I say hi.
It’s simple, but it breaks down the barrier that’s between you and that person immediately. They stare out of ignorance, not because they’re mean-spirited. And by looking at them right in the eyes and saying hi, you’re immediately breaking the image that you’re some exhibit at the zoo and reminding them at you’re a person just like themselves. It works every time for me.
I’ve taken it one step further and used their I’m-uncomfortable-around-people-who-don’t-look-like-me attitude to keep the help I need around campus. We have a bumpy and hilly campus and I’m often tired when I try to push myself from class to class. So, when I see someone looking at me and they’re going in the same direction I’m going in, I start the following dialogue:
(Smile) Hi! Are you going this way? Could I hang on to your backpack (or get a push)? Where are you going? That’s great, I’m going all the way to ______. Could I get some help? So what year are you? Freshman? I thought so. What’s your major? That’s great!
Not everyone is comfortable getting help and this is where you set your own boundaries. If you don’t like it when someone opens the door for you, then politely say “thank you, but I’ve got it”. And sometimes that’s what I do. I don’t ask for help to confirm the stereotype that people with disabilities can’t do things on their own- sometimes I’m just a lazy senior, just like the majority of seniors on campus. I just happen to have a different way of being lazy.
The point here is when you’re on campus, embrace your identity. Your disability is a part of what makes the beautiful you and there’s no reason to be ashamed of it. Don’t let what other people stereotype your disability as take hold of your identity. I may be that-girl-in-the-wheelchair, but I know for a fact that I’m also that-girl-who-talks-with-anyone and that-girl-who-asks-so-many-questions-in-biology and that-girl-who-uses-freshman-to-get-around-campus and a hundred of other names. But first and foremost, I’m Julia. And that’s the person people are friends with, not my wheelchair.