Disability, My Life, Student Life

Ignorance About Disability

I have had Cerebral Palsy since I was born and have faced many difficulties and challenges in my life, but the biggest difficulty of them all is to overcome the ignorance of people surrounding everything disabled.

Here are five points that I think ignorance about disability circulates. There are many more points which I could go into detail about on here, but let’s start off with these five. Please take a few minutes to read this:

PEOPLE’S REACTIONS WHEN THEY SPEAK TO ME
I absolutely hate when people approach me in the street or in public places and they speak to me as if I can’t understand normal English. These people see that I’m in an electric wheelchair and assume that I just can’t understand them, so they think if they talk very slowly to me, careful to pronounce each word with precision, then I will be able to understand them.

As well as pronouncing the words very slowly and with precision, these people often adopt the tone that they would usually speak in when they address young children. It’s insulting to my intelligence and despite the degree of disability that a person may have, they still have intelligence and can hear what is being said to them.

These people often do result in talking to the person whom we are with, instead of talking directly to the disabled person without even addressing us first. Disabled people as well as everyone else clearly have a tongue in there mouth and can communicate in one form or another, people just need to have the patience to enable them to respond.

I do agree that some disabled people may need things repeating to them so they are able to understand fully, but just give us chance to be able to do so. I don’t know we might surprise people by holding a whole conversation with them with no problem at all or very little problem compared to what they expect.

It may just mean that particular disabled individuals take longer to form sentences compared to what the people are used too, but that doesn’t mean they can’t, give them a chance and patience to be able to do so.

BEING UNDERESTIMATED
I have said this once, but I will say it again; I am sick of being underestimated by people who don’t even know me. I do have Cerebral Palsy and it affects my entire left side and partly my right side and this means I have to use an electric wheelchair as well as other equipment to assist me in my daily life, but it does not mean I am completely helpless.

I am the same as anyone else my age, I have my own hopes and dreams and plans for the future. I have my own thoughts, which can’t be influenced by anyone, I have a mind. I have feelings that can be hurt and it hurts to be underestimated. I am well aware of my situation and the limitations it brings, but still, I am out there living the best life there. I don’t need people constantly reminding me of those limitations and voicing their concerns about me not being able to do things.

People see me and see the thing I want to do and automatically assume that I can not do it or it will be too challenging for me. People don’t even let me try and let me discover for myself whether its to difficult for me to accomplish.

Some people treat me like I’m made of glass and I’m going to shatter any moment. Ok, there are times where I’m faced with tasks and challenges and I do have to accept defeat, deciding that these things may be too much, but I have always tried first and I’m always satisfied with my attempt.

This is my life to live and I aim to live it to the full.

PATIENCE
Patience doesn’t cost you anything at all in life, it is just about taking one or two minutes out of your life and being courteous to other people that you pass. I find it irritating when people don’t watch where they are going and walk straight into me and then blame me for getting in their way when they have just clearly walked into me.

Getting in and around University is a key example of this; the campus and buildings get very busy and I often struggle to navigate around, as I move in and around the buildings my fellow students are walking in different directions and the scene is chaotic and I struggle to move through them to get where I want to go.

These students don’t even have the patience to wait a few extra seconds to allow me to get by, instead, they are inconsiderate and push past me as they can’t afford to waste any time waiting for me to pass them.

I understand that getting to lectures and workshops and sometimes are running late, but it’s all about consideration and to be honest with you, it is probably quicker to let the disabled student pass, then trying to push through crowds, in them, you have to file along until they can break away to get to their destination.

Going out to restaurants and nightclubs is another example and even just walking in the streets, people don’t hesitate or even look where they’re going they just barge straight through without a second thought or an ounce of politeness. It does sound so straightforward but it really is about common sense and it only takes a little patience.

LANGUAGE CHOICES
In the world of disability is difficult to avoid those people who can be very tactless and inconsiderate with their word choices. They may not mean any offence by it, but comments made by people who don’t have a regular contract with a disabled person can cause offence or hurt, if not phased properly or if it’s been taken out of context.

Even those people who are around disabled people regularly make mistakes and can phrase things in a particular way which cause hurt and offence, it happens to everyone. I think people just need to regularly remind themselves to be careful on the vocabulary they select when talking to a disabled person as it can so easily be taking the wrong way.

I know it sounds weird but don’t like when people are automatically labelled as being disabled, it categorises people and automatically puts them under one big umbrella and this can often lead to assumptions being made about them and/or decisions being made on their behalf, without even getting to know the individuals affected by the disability.

Since I can ever remember I have been out with my friends enjoying life to the full and I have used the term, ‘walking’ with my friends to the cinema, I have never thought anything of it, it’s just something I have always done. I do find it irritating when people find it funny to correct me by saying that you’re not walking to the cinema or said location,

My friends are walking there and I’m ‘wheeling’ alongside them. I don’t understand what the problem is with me using the term ‘walk’ even though I can’t walk and use a wheelchair to move around. I understand that some wheelchair users, as well as disabled people, can get offended or confused by my use of this term and why I use it when I can’t actually walk and I apologise for using the term and that I mean no offence by it, but otherwise, it is personal choice and I don’t see the need for people to correct me just for the sake of it or to try and be amusing.
A word choice that I find very infuriating and probably the most offensive to me is ‘Do you want me to help you with Sophie to give you a ‘break’. This question is often directed at my parents when people offer to assist them and take their place when helping me with particular things.

I know they don’t mean it and people are just trying to help but I find it very hurtful when people say this or say to me that they are going down me get undressed or something similar to give my parents a ‘break’ but I do find it very offensive and hurtful however unintentional is it. I don’t know about anyone else and I don’t like speaking for the disabled people, but I have low confidence and low self-esteem particularly in myself and to hear these words, really makes me feel rubbish.

This choice of wording makes me feel like I am a burden or a nuisance to my family and they need a break from me, I try my best to be as independent as possible and to take the pressure off my mum and dad as much as possible but there are still some aspects in life that I need assistance with and to hear ‘give you a break’ reinforces the nagging voice in my head as it confirms my suspicions.

Despite whether it was meant in this way or not, no one certainly not disabled people should be made to feel like a burden or a nuisance on their parents or loved ones!

NARROWMINDNESS
Without the risk of sounding like a broken record, I am sick and tired of all disabled people being stereotyped under one definition of disability. Stereotyping disabled people is bad enough, but it is very likely that this stereotypical definition is outdated and doesn’t fully represent more half of the disabled people who are living in today’s society.

Everyone who is disabled is affected differently to the next person and each person has different capabilities to the next. But still, a number of people assume that disabled people don’t do much with their lives apart from the basics which include getting up and dressed and enjoying life at home, maybe going on the odd day trip or out in public. These narrow-minded people suspect that we can’t do basic things for ourselves or cannot communicate at all.

I have been in education for the best part of seven years now and people are surprised when I tell them I attended mainstream schools as I grew, I don’t think people think I could cope with mainstream school, assuming that I attended a special assisted school followed by a particular college chosen by someone else, completing the bare minimum while I was there, being supervised every second of the day.

Instead, I am relatively independent and have made my own decisions with the education in my life and have made decisions on what is right for me in my life. people are even more stunned win I tell them that I am currently studying at the university level while living away from home and that I am well on my way to completing a degree in Creative Writing and Journalism at De Montfort University.

When I tell people this they look at me, half in shock, half in disbelief like they were expecting me to say something completely different. Why couldn’t someone with my needs go to University? Is it really that unusual? I don’t think it is.

Following me telling people that I am at University and in my third year, the people that have asked me to look at my parents as if wanting them to reinforce what I’ve just said, not believing the news when I told them. Why would I lie about that?

Often, I am out with my group of friends, all with disabilities and we get all stared at and watched like we are an interesting TV programme. I know we are slightly different to other people, but other than the obvious, we are individuals with our own lives who have hobbies and interests.

I love writing and going to the cinema in my spare time, but I have also been abseiling and rock climbing as well as joining in on other outdoor activities and people look at me in utter shock when I tell them that I do these outdoor activities, they think that I’m lying, that its not possible.

Some people are just so narrow-minded and these perceptions they have of disabled people will be very hard to change!

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