Me? A Charity Case?!

The first time it happened I was sitting in the lobby of Children's Hospital Boston. At that point I had already been going to appointments by myself for a few years; it was during midterms of my freshman year of college and I was trying to read from a textbook that was on my lap, I had headphones and was listening to my iPod to block out the shrieking children in the lobby. As I sighed to myself wishing that my ride would hurry up and arrive, a hand with a $5 bill clenched in it appeared over the page of my textbook. Startled, I looked up to see who the hand belonged to --

"Umm hi?" I took the headphones off. I had no idea who the person was, he wasn't wearing a doctor's white coat and didn't seem to have a hospital ID tag clipped to him. 
"For you, here. Happy holidays." He dropped the $5 bill onto my book and smiled. 
"But I don't need this, I don't want it, thanks.." I began. I picked up the bill and handed it back to him. 
"No, for you, please." And with that he walked off. 
I looked around and a young woman looked at me as we exchanged looks that said oh the nerve of some people.. 

The second time it happened I was again waiting for my ride, but this time I was in the lobby of a movie theater with my friend. We had just seen Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and was discussing the intricacies of the plot and characters. Suddenly I got a whiff of stale alcohol as a disheveled man came up beside us.
"Hi, what's your name?" The guy asked me. My friend stood behind him, the look on his face was one of uncertain surprise. 
"Sandy.." I answered. 
"Ohhhh I liiike that name! It's a very pretty name!" He grinned at me, a smile that had more than a few gaps. I smiled nervously and looked at my friend standing behind him. 
"I want you to have this.." The man took out a $1 coin from his pocket. His hand holding the coin looked raw and red from the cold, with fingernails that looked to have experienced all the elements.  
"'s a lucky, shiny gold coin.." he took my other hand and placed the $1 coin in the palm of my hand. 
"Umm I-- uhh..well, are you sure?" Stunned I couldn't think of any better words to come out of my mouth. Although what was going through my head was "no I really can't take this from you" "Thank you, but I'd rather you keep it.." 
"Yes, I am absolutely sure" the guy responded. And then he turned to my friend as he clapped him on the shoulder,
"And this must be dad?!" He smiled at my friend. That was when my friend's uncertain face became one that bordered horror and amusement, we looked at each other in disbelief.
"No, no, no I'm not her dad.." my friend quickly replied. 
"Oh, okay.." and without another word and before I could return the $1 coin the man left the movie theatre lobby. 

Rarely do I think about how 'my situation' is rampant with injustice. I am not someone who dwells on how unfair, pathetic, or hopeless my case is -- quite bluntly I think those thoughts are just a waste of my time and full of fallacies. But in the incidents that I share above I do think about how unjust my situation is. It's unfair that people assume I am a charity case, and it's pathetic that people think monetary aid is going to be cure-all to a disabled person's problems.
I know better than to be accepting money from strangers, never mind someone who appears to need it more than I do. The situations that happened above are definitely not my proudest moments but it also goes to show the varying reactions people have to someone who is visibly disabled. This kind of condescending behavior is more of an embarrassment for me than anything else. By accepting these 'donations' am I allowing that person to feel happier about themselves? Have I just allowed the assumption that disabled people are all looking for handouts to be affirmed? Have I just set the community of disabled people back 1,000 steps? 

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One Response to Me? A Charity Case?!

  1. This is such a tricky one. My child has been on the end of situations like this and it's hard to know if you politely but firmly decline or take it kindly in the spirit in which it was given. Being that we never really know what goes on inside others heads, what their motives are...... Interestingly she has also received this kind of treatment when she's not looking remotely disabled (she's only 4, sometimes running and jumping, sometimes in a wheelchair), treatment that if she had have received whilst in her wheelchair I would have attributed to that but on these occasions I can only put it down to her being, funny, polite, gorgeous, articulate, clever and engaging. For her it's not money, it's toys, sweets, treats or favours. Money puts a different spin on it. Most of the time it's so surprising that you don't think straight till the deed is done and it's too late. Though as it happens more often, I'm a little more prepared, I hope she will be too.

    Sara M


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