Friday, April 30, 2010

Imagine That. Kid O For a Day.

The following is my contribution to Blogging Against Disablism Day, which is May 1st.

Imagine that you awaken one morning to discover that you have metamorphosed into a fourteen year-old girl who is severely handicapped. You find yourself suddenly strapped into a wheelchair. You cannot reach the wheels or the breaks, so you cannot go anywhere. Your wheelchair does not have a power joystick attached to a battery pack. And, even if you had one, your fingers are unable to bend so that you could use it.

Imagine that you no longer have the ability to speak. The only voice you have produces the most primal of sounds. You can scream. You can shriek. You can cry. You can also laugh and make babbling sounds. You cannot use your hands to gesticulate because they are too spastic. That means that sign language is out of the question. You also do not have the dexterity to text or write. Imagine that you don't have any assistive technology. You can only answer yes/no questions by moving your crippled left hand to some ablebodied person's outstretched hand. Since they are on your right side, you must slowly move your left arm across your body to accomplish this. Your default answer is yes.

You have to rely on others to feed you, clothe you and tend to your every need. Miraculously you can use the bathroom on your own, but that is the only thing you can do for yourself. The real Kid O cannot. Because you have to rely on others and they are not telepathic, you need to be flexible. You have to wait for a caregiver to help you. You are allowed to whine. It may be that caregivers are tired. Or maybe they are in a bad mood. Or maybe they are otherwise occupied. Sometimes these things cannot be helped. You can be very vocal about it, or you can wait silently.

Imagine that people don't talk to you. They talk around you. You can hear and understand everything is being said, but, because you cannot express yourself, you are treated as if you are incapable of understanding even the simplest of things. Even some of the people closest to you, who you know love you a lot, infantalize you by having the most simplistic conversations with you despite evidence that you comprehend well beyond that. You can forgive them for that because you know that they mean well and that they want what is best for you.

Imagine people don't look at you but through you. Imagine them never looking in your eyes. Imagine that you are bored to tears because people around you are only giving you two options to choose from. Imagine they misinterpret what little you can do as lacking in intelligence. Imagine that they do not understand that the game you devised of ablebodied fetch serves a twofold purpose: you practice your dexterity, and it's one of the few ways you have of interacting with those around you. Imagine that, because you cannot speak, that you are denied assistive technology because people need to know first if you can tell the difference between blue and yellow before they will give it to you. You refuse to answer because you think it's a silly question. You don't want to activate the switch because the recording still has your dead teacher's voice on it, and hearing her makes you sad. You are relieved when your mom bends down beside you to ask you if that is why you are reluctant to use the switch, and they agree to record over your teacher's voice.

Imagine that little kids ask your mom if what you have is contagious. That is OK because they are little kids. They want to know about you. You wish they didn't feel uncomfortable around you. You know that your mom was upset one morning because she discovered the word "mental" written in chalk on the masonry. You also remember when the boy grunted at you when your mom was rolling out you to the school bus. You know that people don't honor your humanity. You also know that many people do. You know that if they were to look in your eyes, that people would see your indomitable spirit and understand that you have a wicked sense of humor. You also know that it doesn't matter what other people think. You are exceptional.


  1. Very powerful post. Thanks so much for writing it!

  2. I hope this post makes a lot of people stop and think.

  3. Thank you both for coming around.

    I hope this post has an impact, too. So many of us take so much for granted. And so many of us make assumptions about others who cannot speak for themselves.

  4. You're both welcome. I hope people start to get the message.