Sometimes We All Forget

My friend I am about to write about reads this blog so I apologize M in advance for embarrassing you!! (At least it's for a good cause).
"Okay so when do you want me to pick you up again?"
"Umm actually I don't because I'm going to see a movie with T and she'll just come get me from the high school."

"Okay that sounds good. .. Wait Sandy, what do you want me to do with your wheelchair?"
"What do you mean?"
"It's still in the back of my trunk --"
"Umm.. I'm in it actually."

None of my friends (who I have met in person) are wheelchair users, never mind have OI. There have been too many times when I'll be out with some friends and they'll start to head for the flight of stairs or the escalator. It doesn't take them long to get flustered, embarrassed, or feel like a total doofus. Usually I just laugh at them or capitalize on my opportunity to remind them of how idiotic they can be. As odd and awkward as those moments can be, I am actually pleased in an odd and awkward kind of way that they happen at all. Let me share:
Is it wrong or shameful of me to be pleased when my friends forget that I'm in a wheelchair? Are they denying a part of me? Are they being selfish when they forget about accommodations? The answer to all of those questions is a resounding no (for me, at least). For me I have interpreted that as my friends seeing me as on the same playing field as they are. So many times in society I am faced with different (lower) standards, wrongly assumed, or my intelligence is thought less of - so when my friends mistakenly head for the escalator at the mall, I am... suffice to say, relieved. In my head I always happily sigh when this happens, with an "oh I can actually be thought of like the other majority." This is also true of friends who tell me about dreams they have about me and I am walking or I am not using my wheelchair. It's not weird.. it's weirdly flattering.

Isn't it a bit off when people overly applaud you for your efforts, that really, took no effort at all? I'm sure this has happened at school, in the work place, or even in your family. It is as if accomplishing something because of your disability is somehow deserving of more stars on the chart. Yes, I agree that people should be recognized for their efforts - but when folks start to give that half smile and that angled-down tilt of their head it starts to sneak towards condescension. Am I wrong? Am I right? There have been times when, I swear, I could have brought back a bag filled with trash that I picked up outside and gotten a standing ovation from co-workers. Let me be clear: I am not looking down at them and nor am I saying that they are any lesser than me. I am thankful for those opportunities and have been fortunate enough to have had amazing workplace experiences. What I'm saying is that as an early 20-something adult, I have not yet come to figure out how to address such awkwardness. But such situations have always forced me to think about assumptions people make about me, and if I am unfairly making similar, if not the same, assumptions about able-bodied people.

Suggestions on working around assumptions:

  • Communication is a 2 way street and it is just as much your responsibility as it is the other party. Don't expect that people will know how to treat you because you are in a wheelchair; the individual might not be ignorant just inexperienced
  • When someone has assumed your intelligence is less than it actually is, that's an opportunity to be gracious and the bigger person (irony!) Take a step back and realize that s/he probably has no idea what OI is about or, more importantly, what YOU are about. Show them! 
  • Saying "I think..." statements when you suggest a more preferable accommodation can come off as less rude as "you should..." i.e. "I think it would be helpful if we could ask the waiter to put us at a lower booth.." as opposed to "the waiter is an idiot, he should move us"
  • Somethings may be obvious to your lifestyle but it might not always be obvious to others. There have been too many times when I think "d'uh that is obviously not accessible, that's a 6inch step up." That should be obvious right? Saying something along the lines of "I will still have trouble..." or "could we find an easier way..." instead of "how do you call that accessible?!" 
  • Just as it is important to let people know what you need help with and how, it is equally important to let others know if you DO NOT need their assistance - in a thankful manner ie "Oh it's okay thanks, I can pull out the chair myself.."
  • I am sure many of us are tired of sounding like we are 9 or female (if you're a guy) over the phone. This can be one of the more infuriating aspects of living life with OI because the other person can't even SEE you! Usually when I get stuck with someone who assumes I am a child I quickly tell them "actually I'm 23...oh I know I sound like I'm 9.. I get that a lot." I've come to find that the last part of the sentence is important because it let's THEM know they are not the only ones but ALSO letting them know you're used to it and to move along in the conversation. 
I will admit that I myself am working on many of the above suggestions. Feel free to suggest some other tips in the comments section!

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