They say love hurts. Sometimes just going out and being among people who don’t understand my disability hurts.
Last night I went out in a group of people. None of them know me very well and a few had not met me before. As I sat there, I suddenly saw one of the women gesturing wildly in my direction and became aware that something was going on behind me. Apparently someone had been trying to get my attention by tapping on my back. Since I lack sensation in parts of my body, I didn’t feel it. So of course I failed to respond. And, according to someone whom I talked to later, the man “tapping” me became impatient and began to hit my back.
I began to have spasms which is how I register pain. So there I am spasming and suddenly without warning in pain. I looked around and the person had stopped. I suppose he became afraid when he saw my body spasm; however, he was “huffy” about why I had “ignored” him. Yet, I did not realize anything was happening until I had the visual clue from my friend.
At times it can be a bit frightening to realize that there is no way to let everyone know what my physical limits are. Many not only assume I’m a paraplegic – but they also don’t realize that lack of sensation is part of some peoples’ spinal cord injury. However, ignorance of that fact never excuses the fact that someone fails to respect my personal boundaries. That is ableism.
This situation reminded me of the times when I’ve had my wheelchair kicked or people have tried to climb over me to get ahead of me in a crowd. People can get pretty physical when they feel I’m holding them up and when they act in these ways can injure a person in a wheelchair.
In general I trust that the world is a fairly benevolent place. Quite frankly, if I didn’t , I wouldn’t go out alone at all being a quadriplegic. I know many with my level of injury who don’t go out alone and I respect their choice. There can be a very real danger that comes from the refusal of some people to respect our boundaries as people with disabilities.
It is one thing not to understand a person’s disability and quite another to disrespect her physical boundaries.
Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan