As a woman who has lived her entire life in a wheelchair, I have encountered many situations where I truly felt that I was living in a society that simply was not created to have me thrive. While I make it a point to let no barrier I come up against stop me from enjoying my life, I do wish that certain things just didn’t happen.
Can You Imagine?
- Getting invited to a work function. You get dressed up and drive to the location. When you arrive, you realize that it’s not wheelchair accessible. You spent the time and effort to get ready, only to realize you can’t even get in the building.
- Being stared at, mocked, or laughed at due to your disability—something you cannot change; no matter how hard you may wish to.
- Having basic human care rights denied to you because someone from the state (who does not know you) has decided you aren’t “disabled enough.” This decision removes your ability to use the restroom, shower, attend work or school, or spend time with family.
- Taking on the world of dating and potential partners completely dismissing you because you’re disabled and that’s just “too much” for them. Or they think you’re not capable of a deep and meaningful relationship.
- Being out to dinner with your family and having strangers come up to sympathize with “how hard it must be” for your husband to care for the kids on his own? This. Even though you’re the one who birthed them, and you’re an equally important and active part in their lives. Or having people say how it’s absolutely astounding that he hasn’t walked out on you yet due to your “problems.”
- Going to see your favorite baseball team play and being so excited to go down by the field to take some pictures before the game starts, but being denied access because you’re disabled. You can’t just walk down the stadium steps like the rest of the able-bodied fans did.
- Not being able to watch a movie at a theatre because they sold the only accessible seats to guests that don’t need them and refused to move because “they got them first.”
These are just a few scenarios which either my peers with disabilities or I have faced. Many of these are my own personal experiences. I wish I could say that they are few and far between, but they aren’t. Situations like the aforementioned happen daily to me, and to others with disabilities.
So, What Can YOU Do?
Here are a few tips that you can start doing to practice inclusion:
- When planning events, make a conscious effort to think about those you’re inviting. If anyone attending is in a wheelchair or has physical limitations, make sure to plan the event in a place they can attend. Not sure what their accessibility needs are? Ask.
- If you approach a stranger with a disability in public, treat them exactly the same as you would anyone else. And if you have a question or comment for or about the person with a disability, address that person directly—not the people they’re with.
- Don’t assume you know or understand a person’s family dynamic just because a member of that family might be disabled. More often than not, our families are very similar to yours!
- If you come across a potential date who has a disability, don’t immediately dismiss them. We can make wonderful life partners and we’re capable of giving and receiving love just the same as anyone else.
- If nothing else, please, if you notice discrimination or exclusion, speak up. Change happens faster when voices are being heard.
Let’s all try to do our part to make this world a bit more inclusive; for everyone.