I’m a paraplegic. A paraplegic is typically defined as a person who has SOME sort of impairment in TWO of their limbs; para meaning two. Impairment does exist in two of my limbs – my legs.
Being a person with a disability, many of my “able-bodied” friends generally assume – that I have a ton of other friends with disabilities. This hasn’t always been the case (and, really, is isn’t now). Sure, I have a few other friends who use wheelchairs. Just as I would ask my own friends, I treat them no differently as a person who is rolling next to me than a person who may be walking next to me. I work professionally in scenarios as a speaker or a counselor on an annual basis in situations with others with disabilities, and we see each other as often and on some other occasions throughout the year.
But…over the years, I’ve always found it odd – I never had a big friend base of others with disabilities. Was that a requirement for being a paraplegic? Absolutely not. But really, why didn’t I?
And then, when I really thought about it, I figured out why. Sometimes, being around others with disabilities made me uncomfortable.
Wow, right? As a person with a disability, how is that so? I use a wheelchair to get around, I’m always teaching others, especially my students, to be as accepting as humanly possible of others and their differences. But what I realized, during that reflection, was that it wasn’t any other disability that made me uncomfortable. It was, primarily, uncomfortable interactions around people with visual impairments.
If a new friend couldn’t walk – I’d be more than comfortable handling myself around them.
If a new friend couldn’t speak, was deaf, or hard of hearing – I’d more than comfortable signing to them or finding some other mutually agreeable form of communication; as long as they took it slow with me.
If a new friend couldn’t see or was vision impaired though? Anxious. Tense. Nervous. A little less sure of my ability to treat them as I would treat any other person (which, of course, is always my goal).
So, instead of sitting on my high horse and feeling sorry for myself, or even avoiding it, I’m going to do something to address it. Writing this into a blog post and posting it into the annals of the web probably isn’t the most popular decision, as I zero out those around me who may be blind or vision impaired. But it is the most accountable.
Consider this the beginning of my journey to be more conscious, just, accountable, and quite frankly: comfortable. I’m going to work on making HESONWHEELS a more visually-friendly and universally designed site, I’m going to work on interacting more with those with visual disabilities to kind of quell that fear and…I don’t know. I don’t know what else I’m going to do. But this is an issue for me and I want to solve it.
As a socially just person, I don’t think I should be able to consciously zero out a quality about a group of people that makes me uncomfortable. Because, after all, we are all just people, and if we want to interact with others on the same playing field we should be automatically given that opportunity. In fact, to me, it’s a right.