Since the late 90’s, my M.S. had progressed to the point that I needed a power chair. Needing a wheel chair does not define a person.
Experiencing people’s reaction to me in a chair has been a study in human behavior. While eating out with my family recently, I went to get a refill of my drink and a woman asked me “How can you be so happy?” I was baffled and asked her what she meant. “Well, you’re in a wheelchair, so how can you be happy?” I was absolutely flabbergasted. I think of these encounters as opportunities to educate so I explained the chair simply took the place of my legs. I am happy by choice.
On another occasion I was waiting for my ride after work in a doctor’s office. Many people going in and out would ignore me, even after I said hello. I felt invisible. One day I forgot to take off my stethoscope and EVERYONE responded to my greetings!
Did being a doctor or nurse make me more approachable or somehow less handicapped? In crowded stores I am often bumped into or tripped over, again giving me the feeling of being invisible. Experimenting, I wore my stethoscope the next time I went shopping and not only was I not bumped into but people were would ask me if I needed any help! Many people either smiled or nodded at me as I shopped.
Was it possible that looking like a professional somehow altered people’s perception of me from being a disabled person to being “one of them”? Was a stethoscope like a magic wand that suddenly made me visible?
My question is what perceptions do you have when seeing someone in a chair; or of a different skin color, nationality or religion?
Article written by Laura Conant, freelance writer for Calumet Park