I am trying very hard in my life right now to remove negative elements and thought patterns. Part of it is work with my therapist, part of it is just me changing me reactions. It is a day-by-day process, but I am getting there. Within the last year, I let the negative consume me (starting with the trauma of surgery complications and going downhill from there). Though I have always been sarcastic and snarky by nature, and always will be, that should not be the only face I show to the world.
Some people, however, deserve snark and embarrassment.
I am a Disney lover, and I am at Disneyland several days a week, and even got married in Disney World. Last week I was getting ready to board “It’s a Small World.” It is my friend’s favorite (and though my sister hates it, I don’t mind), so we made sure to ride it. They have a wheelchair accessible boat (rather cleverly done), so I did not make the transfer. When the wheelchair boat came into the loading area, there was a boy, maybe 5-7 years old, in a rather awesome Colours wheelchair. He also had a NG feeding tube (though most people probably assumed it was oxygen). And he was just a little boy – he was happy and probably on vacation with his family before schools starts.
A woman who was part of a party also using the accessible entrance (the other way involves stairs – I have no idea who in the party had a disability or what it was) saw him getting off the boat and her face immediately transformed into one of immense pity for the boy (and perhaps his family). She looked down at him and said “Oh, that’s so sad.” Luckily, there was no evidence that the boy heard it.
I, however, did. And as I rolled past her family to board the boat I stopped, looked up at her and said, “Actually he looked quite happy to me.” And I said it loud enough for her whole family and the surrounding Cast Members to hear. And I meant it.
There was nothing “sad” about the boy. While this may seem a minimally offensive statement to most, it is ableism at it’s finest, and most common form: automatic pity. Yes, that boy and I and others after me in the park that day used wheelchairs. And none of us want pity. None of us are sad – at least not until a statement like that makes us feel lesser. Later that day I met another wheelchair user who definitely would not have wanted the pity – a woman with an amazing voice who performs in the Aladdin show in Disney California Adventure who was Ms. Wheelchair California 2010.
Just because we require wheels to get around does not make us “sad.” We are not sad. We are not pitiful. And while some forms of ableism are readily apparent or more obvious, like being turned down for a job because of disability, others are not. And it is these little daily statements that are not only more insidious, they are the more damaging.
So while I am trying to remove negative elements from my life, and change behavioral traits – I will not allow such offensive, ableist comments to go unanswered. Because I am not sad, I am not helpless, I am not without any abilities because of my disability, and I will not let people make me, or others, feel that way.