Thursday, July 1, 2010

I'm disabled - not someone to look straight through

- by Guest Blogger, Stephanie Hickey -

I am, like a fair amount of people these days, looking for work. Until that time, I have to make do with my disability income. A few months ago when cashing my SSI check, the cashier commented, “You get this much money a month for sitting around and doing nothing? Wow!” The remark reminded me of an incident in high school. As part of the dress code, we were not allowed to wear tennis shoes. However, I had to wear braces on my feet and tennis shoes were the only shoes wide enough for the braces to fit in.

One of the girls did not like this and pitched a little fit. “Why does she get to wear tennis shoes?” I realized why, of course. I do not look visibly disabled--I’m not in a wheelchair or using a cane. More than a decade of therapy and seven operations helped me improve my condition a great deal. The assumption bothered me, as if I were receiving special treatment, as if I wouldn’t have gladly exchanged having to wear those irritating and painful braces (inside my tennis shoes) for a cute pair of dress shoes like everyone else had. I would’ve happily done so, just as I used the stairs instead of taking the elevator, which I could’ve easily obtained a pass to use.

I constantly encounter the attitude behind that remark. It’s the belief that people with disabilities get special privileges. From tennis shoes to the parking sticker to a free income, we get some things so easy? This is not the case. These things considered “privileges” are trivial in comparison to the reason we have them. While I don’t feel ashamed of my disability, I would gladly exchange bodies with a--for lack of a better word--healthy individual so that I’d have no use for these “luxuries”. I believe that many individuals with disabilities agree that these comforts are no real trade off for disability.

This is the kind of treatment I’ve seen people with disabilities get. If we are not forgotten or invisible to society, save the awkward stares, we get treated as inferior by a far majority of those lucky enough to be fully able. People with disabilities don’t get enough consideration in society or government. Not enough buildings are accessible and while there are programs to help people with disabilities, there could still be a lot more.

I’m not trying to make this a self-righteous diatribe, I’m just asking people to think before they speak. It’s truly as the saying goes: “You never know someone’s life until you walk a mile in their shoes.” And I’d readily trade you my shoes and my parking sticker if I could.

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