Can You See Me? When People are Blind to Disability

Being on crutches for 6 weeks lent itself to quite an interesting experiment called “let’s learn how (in)tolerant people are of disabilities.”  I’m going to complain and express some frustration, so before that let me share something positive.  

Getting around on crutches recently and even in a few days in a wheelchair has actually provided some neat opportunities to see the good in people.  I think my favorite moment was being pushed in a wheelchair by a friend on a Saturday afternoon when a little girl, maybe 7 or 8 years old, saw us coming by and shouted “I hope you feel better!”  How sweet!  Perfect strangers strike up conversations asking how much longer I’ll be on crutches or sharing their own experiences with broken bones and injuries.  It’s interesting to see how people react and rally when I need something.  That part has been really nice.  Even my neighbors, who were strangers to me in April, now help me with my laundry and even take out my trash.  If they see me hobbling to my car they run up and grab my bag so that I can be more steady on the crutches.

There are some good people out there.  Unfortunately, my overall experience has indicated that there are many more of the ignorant and unhelpful people.  It has been shocking to realize how intolerant people are of anyone with a disability and how oblivious people are to their surroundings. 

A Sampling of the Negative Experiences

Some people watch me struggle to maneuver potholes or narrow spaces.  Yes, they literally just stare! 

 I had the most absurd experience riding the elevator with my mom.  We got to our floor, and she stood by the door holding it so that it wouldn’t shut as I hopped out.  Before I could even move, an entire family rushed passed me, almost knocking me over, just to get out of the elevator as quickly as possible.  I mean, I understand being in a rush, I’ve been there.  But what kind of example are you setting for your kids?  Where is the parent offering a helping hand or telling their child to “be patient and let the lady go first.”  Not because I’m a lady (which I also believe in) but because I’m crippled!   

Now this is going to shock you.  I have had people honk at me, yes honk, when I’m crossing the street.  I always cross in the crosswalk, and always make sure I have the light.   It has never taken me longer to cross the street than it took the light to change from red to green for oncoming traffic.  And yet, still, with a red light staring at them, people are nervous that it will be green any second and I’ll still be in the road.  And of course, honking will make me crutch faster right?  If anything, crutching faster would only increase the chances of me falling and cars having to wait even longer.  I mean honestly, who honks at someone on crutches?!

Cane_MSHere’s the best part – the people with canes and walkers.  I work in a senior center so when I injured myself I thought it would be so nice to be around people who “understood.”  Boy was I wrong!  The people with canes are the ones getting frustrated with me for taking so long!  The ones with walkers are never satisfied whether I let them go first or I go first down the hall.  

 Oh and I think the most shocking moment of the last 6 weeks on crutches was when a middle aged man stood at a door waiting for me to open it and hold it for him to walk through!

 I’m not about to say that these people have ill intentions.  I think overall people are just oblivious and self absorbed.  It’s to a pretty extreme extent though.  As you might imagine, I’m not exactly a quiet person.  I make my thoughts known.  For example, with the elevator incident (which happened several times) I actually said, sarcastically of course, “oh no please, after you, I’m only on crutches, you can even try bumping into me on your way if you’d like.” And in response I just got puzzled stares.  People legitimately had no idea what was wrong with their behavior.  And when the man waited for me to hold the door open I said to him “sir, honestly, I’m on crutches, I think this would work a bit better the other way around.”  His response was “oh no you’re doing just fine.”

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!  It would be one thing to vent about how our children are behaving and how we need to raise them better but in all honesty, most of the negative experiences have been with adults.  It’s the adults who aren’t helpful.  Which of course only terrifies me for the future of our society if this is the example being set.  The kids I’ve interacted with for the most part have been helpful and courteous.  

This has been a short lived stint.  Even though I have MS, I don’t usually need this type of help. But, what about the people who do live in wheelchairs?  What about people who are blind or have any other type of long term handicap?  I mean, do people really deal with this level of ignorance and intolerance day after day for their entire lives?  

How are people so caught up in themselves that they are entirely unaware of what’s going on around them?  Even to the point where they physically see a person struggling but are somehow unable to see how to fill a need.  I honestly felt invisible at times.  I’m sharing all of this not to hate on the world.  I’m managing fine and will continue to.  Instead I hope people will realize how challenging it is for those of us with disabilities.  We live in a society where people do not care about us.  We are seen as holding others back.  If you are slower in any way, mentally or physically, others hurry up to rush past you.  So take a moment, realize that you are not any more important than the next person, and lend a hand.  The feeling you get from helping someone will bring you more benefits than squeezing in one more meeting or errand that day.  Offer assistance when you can, be aware of what’s happening around you, and be a role model at all times.  We have to improve our society and it starts with each and every one of us.


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.