After the accident that left me paralysed, I spent around one and a half years in bed. I would occasionally sit on my wheelchair once a week; preferably during Sunday afternoons. Though lying down for long hours had been quite difficult in the beginning, my body had adjusted quite well to the new status quo. The longer I stayed in bed the harder it became for me to want to get out. I was fine being between my four blue pale walls re-watching soap operas on my 22-inch tv.
Looking at myself now, I can hardly recognize the person I was then. But then yesterday’s struggles have been necessary for me to evolve into the man I am today. Everything I’ve met along this journey has been intentional; there has not been a wasted moment. It has all been beneficial, transformational.
Being disabled and understanding what that means, I knew that I had to adjust my mindset. I was aware of my own biases about disabled people before the accident. I expected the same biases to be effected on me. I knew people would say hurtful things without even knowing it. I understood that I would never be treated the same way again. Some people would never want me around anymore.
My kind of disability is the kind that you cannot hide or conceal. It shines as bright as the sun does and rarely leaves anything to the imagination. My wheelchair and I are a complete package and that doesn’t always sit well with everybody. To some, I am not the kind of person to post a picture with or be seen together in public. I am not the right kind of guest at a party because I will often never fit in.
Social pressures and common courtesies have served me a few awkward moments, some of which have been really eye-opening. In the past, people have asked me to attend a party with them or go somewhere purely as a formality. It’s usually a lukewarm invitation where I am not expected to accept. They invite me because they feel bad leaving me out and they would like to be seen as people who are all-inclusive and accommodating. Most times they aren’t.
Sometimes I accept these invitations because I want to be a good sport and show up where I think I am wanted. Once I present myself, my host acts indifferently and distant especially in the company of other people. I hardly get introduced to the other guys present, I sit alone…watching my inviter get embarrassed by me. Every time I do something that reeks of disability like struggling with a few stairs they cringe, it’s usually so profound that I see it.
Inclusion isn’t easy, it’s actually a tough thing to do especially if you have a problem with people who are challenged in a certain way. Maybe you view this challenge as incompleteness or blemish. I have witnessed people close to me take pictures but try their best to keep me off their social media pages. Probably because a disabled man doesn’t fit well with their brand.
Other times the dynamics change and all people want to do is to be seen in the company of individuals that are regarded as challenged. They assume the role of “saviour” and appear to care for those who are often discriminated against and marginalized. I use the term appear because we all know there are people who only hang with disabled people because of the perks that come with doing so. One perk is gaining the admiration of others who view these actions as highly philosophical and inspirational. I wouldn’t want to come off as though I was attacking everyone who does acts of kindness. That would be pretentious because plenty of people have helped me too. My issue is with those who are only supportive when the cameras are on. It is disingenuous to take advantage of disadvantaged people.
I have never expected the whole world to be accepting and loving to people with disabilities. I’ve been burned enough to know that some people will not want you too close to them. They are willing to like you from afar, in private and without an audience. These are difficult facts to accept but there is irrefutable truth in them. People in conditions similar to mine should learn how to decode the messages they receive; we need to protect ourselves from toxic environments where we are not wanted. Do not cross the ocean for someone who fails to see your worth.