- Posted by Elizabeth McClung
- 31 Jan 08, 06:04 AM
My future was stolen from me. No, not by disease but from people I encounter daily whose vision is so clouded by my disability they cannot see me. My past has been stolen too, thrown away as irrelevant. Even my care workers number among those who imprison me in amber: a stasis without expectations, without common connections, aspirations, or identity. ‘Disabled’ is a word that has no past, no future, and only a continuous state of being.
When I was able bodied conversations went like this:
Person A: “Hey you just moved from the England right?”
Me: “Well, they like to call it the United Kingdom, but yes.”
Person A: “Cool, found a job yet?”
Me: “Not yet, I’ve applied for work teaching at the universities and some government jobs.”
Person A: “Oh in this job market you don’t have to worry, I work for government, great vacations, I just got back from Mexico, ever been there?”
Me: “No, but my partner and I want to go to Hawaii if a good deal comes up…” Blah, blah….
I cannot remember ever, while in the wheelchair, have a person ask me what my job was, or what career I was planning. Today when talking to the assistive technology department of BC, I informed her that yes, I do work and yes I have deadlines which was met with: “Really? …I mean, wonderful, you are a perfect candidate!”
A bit later, after another, “Really?!” from telling her I write from three to five hours a day, she delicately brought up the aspect of money. After a year trial, I would have to buy any adaptive technology (like Dragon 9) at a substantial reduction. I said that though I don’t qualify for disability funding (my partner and I would need to be significantly BELOW the poverty line) and while we aren’t well off since I get my book residuals in Feb, I didn’t anticipate the payment as a problem. “Oh…..OH!”
Lady, I’m…er, 29 and holding, is it so impossible to think that I have a past, I might have/had a career or that I could have SOME independent funds? Apparently.
These are a few of the questions I am NOT asked: are you going to university, are you thinking of getting a masters degree, are you thinking of moving in the future, what kind of jobs did you have before now, where do you go on vacation, have you been to country X, have you seen the cheap flights to Y, what new projects are you starting, what new hobbies do you have, are you dating, are you seeing someone new, do you have a partner, how long have you been together?
As a disability ‘newbie’ I quickly ran smack into ‘the rules.’ No, not PWD rules but those actions and attitudes which are just “not on”, disconcerting, not appropriate or downright offensive to so many in the able bodied world (especially those employed to “assist us”). My natural personality seemed particularly offensive: driven, intelligent, visibly bored, sarcastic, and prone to try anything. And for me to act as if I was….well someone, someone who had “a future”, someone who did not suffer fools and someone who acted as if they were…an equally significant person was pretty darn distasteful. This is disability, NOT customer service!
To imply I was JUST LIKE THEM was both inconceivable and offensive. When I told a same aged care worker how beneficial that she was in a union in case of disability she laughed, “I won’t need that, I’m young and I exercise regularly!” Yet she “knew” that months before working for me I was not only exercising vertically but in national sports competitions.
One day, I decided, because of my neurological heat intolerance, I needed some wicking exercise tops, so I wheeled to the local specialized running store. You would have thought I was on fire the way people either ran to avoid me or ran to contain me. No one in a wheelchair had ever come into this oversized dedicated running shop where EVERY changing room had two steps up to enter.
A person in wheelchair doesn’t have a past; that’s what the shocked looks told me when I handed the people at Triumph, the government funded disability employment agency, my multi-page CV/resume. “This is my research one,” I told the stunned case manager, “Do you want the teaching one or the management one?”
“No, no,” she said, as she slowly spread the pages before her like a magical scroll from legends, “this is MORE than enough.” Wait, this isn’t just about getting me an entry job doing data entry or stuffing envelopes right? This is about career development in a desperate labor market….isn’t it?
I just started badminton. I called the front desk of the Y telling them I was going to be there Sunday for badminton and they might tell the organizer I was in a wheelchair. “Uh, I don’t think that’s going to work…..not in a wheelchair.” By this time, 10 months into the walls and cages of people’s minds, I just sighed and said, “I am about to spell my name, Elizabeth McClung, and I will be there Sunday.”
After I warmed up with the director, we rested and people starting breaking into groups. I asked this person and that person but no matter whom I asked, they either weren’t playing right now, or didn’t want to pair with me, or were already paired. Every one of the 14 people in the gym knew exactly where I was, had stared at my chair, yet not one of them would play that game of badminton with me, nor the game after.
The Y director noticed, walked into two games, pulling a guy from each of them and said, “You are playing doubles with us.” The Y director and I won. People said, “Yeah, we can double, I saw you play and you were pretty good.”
Yeah, but I’ve haven’t seen you play but I’ll give you a chance anyway. If I said back to them what they had enacted to me, I would have seen the most offended faces possible. But like I said, I am 10 months into the walls, cages and expectations. Maybe even I got worn down a bit.
I am getting tired of trying to fight an invisible foe, one hiding in the minds of those I face. You don’t know what I’ve done, or what I am already doing. And you never will, because you have chosen, instead of seeing ME, to see only ‘Disability.’
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