I have lived as a disabled man for close to six years now. Though that seems like a lot of time, it hasn’t been even nearly enough for me to completely grasp what it means to be a wheelchair user. Most of the information or knowledge I have acquired has been through other people’s experiences. My lack of going out and interacting as much as most people do has shielded me from the reality of microaggression and infantilization.
These are all very big words, words which I must admit I normally don’t use. I learnt of them after reading a series of posts that had been written by advocates and activists of people with disabilities. They broke down human behaviour as it relates to ableism and prejudice. It dawned on me that I was never shielded from micro-aggression because I didn’t go out more, I was shielded because even when it stood right in front of me, I chose not to see it.
I was in town and I wanted to go open a bank account. Because I have the motorized wheelchair, I am independent in my movements even in town, only requiring some assistance when I encounter the town’s infrastructure which shouts exclusion most of the time. I was headed to the bank and I was driving on a narrow pavement which was also being used by a few other people. My phone rang and I pulled up to the side to pick it up. Midway into the conversation, I felt a sudden push from behind. The chair didn’t move because it is designed to stop unless it is moved using the joystick. I hung up the phone and turned the chair around to see who was pushing me and why they were doing so.
It turns out that a security officer manning the entrance to a shop nearby had seen me stop and had decided to push me without first asking if my chair had broken down or not. He said that he was only trying to help but when you think about the underlying issue, you will realize that he saw me as a weakling that needed help and I was going to receive the help whether I needed it or not, because I was on a wheelchair and we are always in need of help.
I went to see one of my friends at his shop and my stomach kept rumbling. I had taken a light breakfast so I asked him where we could catch a quick bite. We went to a small cafe right next door. I was lucky to get access into the building; they had a decent ramp. Once we settled, a nice young lady approached us to take our orders. Like most people who see me for the first time, she noticed my chair but tried her best to act like she hadn’t seen it. She asked my friend what he was going to have, she then proceeded to ask him what I was going to have. I was seated right there, and she asked my friend what I was going to take. So, my friend asked me what I would have, I told him then he told the lady.
That whole experience reminded me of when I was a child and my parents took me to a restaurant and ordered food for me. Now that I am a grown man, I feel belittled when I am treated like a child who can’t make his own decisions without help. A physical disability is very different from an intellectual disability. There is a common misconception that every form of disability affects an individual’s intellect. Severe mental conditions such as cerebral palsy can affect a person’s ability to process information for themselves and communicate it properly. Having a spinal injury, on the other hand, is purely physical and does not affect my ability to make my own order at a restaurant.
I am not bitter, and neither am I angry. I just wish we would educate ourselves more in order to accommodate everyone. Microaggressions go beyond disability, it is more about seeing people for who they are and treating them with dignity and equality. Here are 5 Things To Avoid Saying To A Disabled Person