- Posted August 21, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Stop the Staring Please
In the news everyday it seems I hear something about race or discrimination and what it feels like to be treated one way simply because of your skin color. There are countless stories and reports on what it is like to grow up as an African American, but rarely do you ever hear what it is like for someone to grow up with a physical or mental disability. I have lived with a physical disability from the day I was born.
I was born with the muscle and joint disease Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita. Doctors did not expect me to survive the night but I proved them wrong for the first of what would be many times in my life. My parents raised me just as you would any other child so I never really saw myself as different. I started ballet as soon as I was walking and then tap lessons followed. It wasn't until I was about 5 or 6 that I started to realize something was not quite the same. I guess this is when people thought they could stop addressing their questions to my mom or dad and just come right out and ask me the extremely personal questions.
My first real memory of someone asking me a question happened at the age of five. My parents were taking me to Disney World and we had gotten up early for breakfast. I was all excited to meet Cinderella and as I was about to take a bite out of my grapefruit the waitress walked by and ask me "what was wrong with my hands." I really did not know how to answer this because as far as I was concerned there was not anything wrong with them. They allowed me to do everything I needed to. I looked at my mom and she smiled at the waitress and said in her nicest voice she had surgery. Don't get me wrong I was used to people staring and occasionally pointing when we went in to a store but being a 5 year old I was under the impression they believed I was famous and would be asking for my autograph at any moment. I practiced this daily just in case someone ever did ask me.
As I got older people would get more bold asking me invasive questions. Within a few years tired of dealing with the questions on an almost daily basis so for fun and to teach them a lesson whenever someone would ask me what happened to my arms or legs I would look at them with the sweetest and most innocent face and on rare occasions squeeze out a tear and tell them a little white lie. "I was visiting my grandma in Florida and a alligator bit my arm," or a shark. My mom didn't like it when I did this but she understood and it got the person to leave me alone. My dad would just sit there and smile. At times when I was feeling even more stubborn I'd just tell the person it was going to cost them a dollar to find out what was wrong with me. I found this drove people particularly crazy. While we were on vaction in California, my mom even had a lady follow her into the restroom at a restaurant all because she wanted to know why I looked like I did.
Life went on and I made it to my teens. I had a great group of friends and by 14 I was a certified scuba diver, played piano for several years, ballet, tap and jazz, I did dressage and theatre all while maintaining a GPA close to 4.0. If I had actually studied I could have had that 4.0 but I was more into social things at that time and that still got my a nearly full scholarship to one of the top schools in the south.
Only problem with a scholarship to a school like that is when they do not have handicapped accessible buildings and 2 months into school you have surgery and end up in a wheelchair for 2 more months. Nothing kills freshman social life like being brought to and from all college classes by your mom because your college does not have ramps and elevators. After a few years, a college degree or two later and a near death experience I decided to go to nursing school. I was so excited to start. I felt like my life was finally getting back to a good normal after the health problems and despite having to change my medical school plans nursing was where I belonged....unfortunately it didn't seem that everyone felt that way. Not to long into my nursing school experience I realized just how hostile my year was going to be when I had a instructor pull me out after class and tell me to my face I did not belong in nursing school. Rather than causing me to doubt myself this statement by her lit a fire in me that drove me to finish school despite the need for surgery. I looked her in the eye and told her if I was fit for medical school I didn't see I would have any issues with nursing school. I've worked hard my entire life and she was not going to limit what I could or could not do. So I graduated from nursing school on a weekend and by that Monday I was being wheeled into the OR to have the surgery I had refused to have until finishing school. I also had the nicest letter from another professor telling me how much he admired my hard work and that I was an inspiration to him and should have been to others on the program.
I struggled finding a job after graduating. My parents never wanted to come out and say it but they knew as well as I did that I was denied numerous jobs because the person interviewing me didn't think I could do the job. In fact I'm positive the only reason I got the job I did when I got my first job out of school is because they tried me out temporarily at first and a couple girls fought for me. A few didn't want me there and they made that clear. I'm in a great job now and work with disabled people regularly. I've been knocked down several times since graduating. I remember calling my parents crying because I was not offered the job change I had requested and was well qualified for. Instead it went to someone with no experience and she made several errors. I know the reason that I didn't get that job and it wasn't because of my personality or lack of knowledge.
Just when I think that I no longer care when people stare at me something happens to open up insecurities. I've tried explaining to my fiance that these things happen and people will at times say or do rude and inappropriate things, but I don't think he understood me until one night when we had a little date night and went out. As we were being seated at the restaurant a man walks up to me and looks at me and ask me "were you born like that?" I have to admit that even after all these years this took me by surprise. I almost wanted to ask him if he was born like that and when he ask me what I meant I would simply state ignorant and rude. How do you answer that? I did all I knew how to I looked at him and kept on walking. My fiance looked at me smiled and said did he really just ask you that. I do think it is sad that it is usually the adults not the kids that stare and make comments or ask questions. My biggest concern now is that I am going to be step mom to 3 kids. They live with us and knowing what I do about adults how can I shelter these 3 innocent kids from being subjected to the behavior I deal with? I read an article the other day about a little girl who was denied access to a museum because she was in a wheelchair. No one really got upset by this. However, Paula Deen caused an uproar over a comment made before I was even born. Now there is a letter written by a woman who calls herself a mother regarding an autistic child next door and it hasn't caused a huge stir. I hear about people with disabilities being beaten or murdered but it isn't headline news. The disabled face discrimination on levels many will never imagine, and they face this because some of them cannot even speak out to defend themselves.
The disabled do not have a Jessie Jackson or Al Sharpton fighting in their corner. Instead they are often still pushed to the sidelines and forgotten about. I am no longer shocked by the rudeness of people. I've had comments made to me as a child by adults that I never thought anyone in their right mind would dream of saying to another person.