When I go out, people don’t talk to me. They stare, some smile, and nobody talks. Well, that’s not true, there is a minority who bend down and shout in my face like I’m deaf, regardless of the fact that I have been having a normal conversation with my mum. But most of all I don’t exist. I’m not a person, just a wheelchair. That’s all they see.
And then we got Molly. Now when I go out, people will approach me and talk to me like they would a friend. They strike up conversation with me, usually beginning with “Aww, a puppy!” and the wheelchair disappears. I’m no longer disabled, handicapped, sick, have special needs, or whatever else people usually think; I’m just Lucy. Having Molly makes me a part of society, and makes me feel valued. Having her makes me a regular person, like everyone else. I can’t tell you how amazing that feels.
I’ll hold my hands up; prior to becoming ill I often stared, wondering what illness or disability a person had, and like most people, I didn’t intend to be rude, I was just curious. But I have a whole new appreciation and understanding. I will now say hello, and will gauge their level of capability through their reply, if I get one. That is because I understand what it feels like to be on the receiving end of the stares, the whispers, the ignorance and the judgemental preconceived ideas.
Everyone knows how it feels to be stared at and talked about, I’m sure, but it’s ten times more when you have a disability. Not just wheelchairs, but limps, deformities, short stature, people signing, white canes, etc. they all generate stares from others that are more than just glances or double takes. To be honest I don’t mind people staring at me; most of it is genuine and harmless curiosity, but if I catch your eye and smile, be courteous and smile back.
We went along the cliffs today with Molly and met a Springer Spaniel also called Molly, a show Cocker Spaniel called Miley, and also an elderly lady with her lurcher, all of whom talked to me; I was really pleased. So many people stopped me so they could see the puppy. One lady even asked why I was in a wheelchair, so I got to spread some awareness of EDS, autonomic dysfunction/dysautonomia and intestinal failure. I was so happy! Nobody ever asks, and I’d rather they did. I know some people don’t see it the same way I do, but asking me why I’m in a wheelchair rather than just staring will break down that barrier and they will be more understanding of disabilities as a whole in the future. Curiosity is often mistaken for rudeness, but society is so frightened of doing or saying the wrong thing and being politically correct that all they can do is stare in fear of upsetting others. I often feel like carrying a sign which says “just ask me” so that people will realise that I am “all there” and don’t have any learning difficulty which will prevent me from holding down a “normal” conversation.
Having Molly has completely changed my life in many ways, breaking down the huge barriers between people with disabilities and the rest of society. Long may it continue!