“Aww bless her, I thought I had it bad” - Sympathy and Disability
Helen is a 21 year old student at University of Warwick, wheelchair and
walking frame user and owner of the Facebook blog page
Disabilityawarenessblogger. Today she talks to us about sympathy and disability.
I was sat in a Dr’s waiting room with my mum recently, when a lady came and sat down opposite us. She glanced at me and my walking frame parked in front of my seat once, and turned to my mum to say, “Aww bless her, I thought I had it bad”. This wasn’t somebody who knew anything about my life or me as a person, yet a sympathetic judgement came within a minute. And this woman isn’t alone in jumping to the conclusion that because I have an impairment, things must be bad for me.
As somebody who uses a walking frame or
wheelchair, these kind of conversations with strangers, or from strangers about
me, are nowhere near a rarity. Whether it’s a film presenting a happy ending
for a disabled person as a cure, the presentation of disability as unlucky or
bad fate, or the lack of representation of disabled people as people living
with jobs, families, friends and all kinds of experiences, it’s easy to see why
there are so many preconceived ideas about disability.
Yes, my disability is part of me and who I am. But, that has a very different meaning to what that lady thought and how disability is so often presented. I’m not unlucky or struck by a cruel twist of fate. I’m not saying it’s without its challenges; it’s the frustration when there’s no ramp or disabled toilet. It’s dealing with judgements and the impact of these when it comes to things like job applications. It’s experiencing social barriers.
But, it’s also added so many good things to my life. It’s my favourite hobby, wheelchair dance. It’s part of my determined character. It’s leading an active lifestyle thanks to assistive technology like wheelchairs and walking frames. It’s my passion to raise awareness and create social change. I wouldn’t be the same person without it and it’s given me so many experiences. Being disabled is part of my experiences, but there is more to my life than a diagnosis.
One of my favourite quotes is;
'There is no greater disability in society, than the inability to see a person as more' Robert M. Hensel
I’m a 21 year old woman at university, who’s been on a year abroad. I enjoy catching up with friends over coffee, watching too many episodes of a series in one go and spending too much time on social media. It’s this reality of disability that I wish was shown more often; people experiencing life with an impairment, not despite of it. Would I change my impairment if I could? No. It does sometimes mean approaching things differently, but different is just that – different. Not better, not worse.
What are your experiences of the perceptions of disability? What do you think about the presentation of disability? Tell us about your experiences of sympathy and disability.