Like many of my fellow paraplegics, I don’t look “disabled”. I’m not sure what the “disabled look” is, but I’m told quite often that I’m not rocking it. This leads to many misunderstandings, no matter what country we’re traveling or language we’re attempting.
My favorite are when conversations go like this:
“So this chair thing is temporary, right? You were just injured or something?”
“No, I’m a chair lifer now. My injury wasn’t exactly reversible, why?”
“Really?! You just don’t look that disabled, not what I people in wheelchairs usually look like.”
To some extent, I understand what the “other people in wheelchairs” perhaps looked like. It’s only been in the last few generations that disabled people have become part of the outside world and not confined to their homes. Franklin D. Roosevelt is the man and one of my personal heroes for proving to the world that a wheelchair does not the man make, especially when there were few others in his generation that were accomplishing this. Generally, habitual wheelchair users are elderly or have more debilitating problems than paraplegia that have changed their bodies in other ways as well. But with laws like the American Disabilities Act and tragically unfortunate the result of decades of warfare for the US solider have brought more wheelchair users out in the workforce, communities and traveling the world. So the “disabled look” is in a season of change. I’m proud to know that I’m helping shape the new socialital expectations for disabilities by taking the train on my own, looking catcalling-capable hot rolling down the street and figuring out how to get to that balconey overlooking Barcelona.
What do you think “disabled” looks like? Now that I have a new label, I want to make sure I’m rocking it respectfully.