…and I’ll never take it for granted again. My broken ankle is healing well and my cast came off last week. As of last Friday, I’m allowed to walk inside and I can start with 1 – 3 blocks outside. It doesn’t sound like much, but what a difference it makes when you want to go somewhere that’s hard to access in a wheelchair. It’s a long, slow process but the healing is happening and as I leave the wheelchair, I have many lessons and experiences to take with me.
I’ve now experienced three disabilities and have gained perspective on each one. I really hate calling them disabilities or handicaps though, because I still feel able. Even being in the wheelchair didn’t stop me from doing most things. I just had to do them a little differently.
It’s been interesting to see how different people react to my various “inconveniences.” While I’ve been in the wheelchair, people have reacted mainly in three ways. One is to look at me with sympthy and maybe a half-smile and quickly look away. The second is to ignore me completely and move past me quickly. The third way is to treat me normally, talk to me, and help however they can. I’m so happy to say that most people I’ve come across not only are in the third group, but they have been so helpful and kind I’ve been overwhelmed by how wonderful people can be.
With my eyesight problem there hasn’t been much opportunity for people to react because most of the time they can’t tell I’ve lost vision. Since it’s my close up vision, it’s not really front and center when I’m in public. But anytime I’ve had a problem, people have been more than willing to help – for instance, by telling me what’s on a label, finding the book I just couldn’t seem to see, reading the fine print to me, etc.
People’s reactions to my being unable to hear is a little more complicated. People who don’t know me tend to speak before I know they’re talking to me so of course I almost always miss the first things they say. I have to say, “I’m sorry but I’m deaf and I read lips so could you repeat that for me?” Even people who know I’m deaf sometimes forget and speak without facing me or have their hand over their mouth. And even if they do things perfectly, sometimes I just have trouble getting it. (Reading lips is far from perfect.)
The reaction to that usually goes one of two ways. “Oh! I’m sorry,” they sometimes say. And then they repeat and make sure I can see their lips. The other way is a heavy sigh and a shrug or wave accompanied by, “Never mind.” That’s the way that makes me want to scream, “Please don’t dismiss me because I can’t hear. And if I can’t get what you’re saying even after you repeat it, please don’t get annoyed and frustrated. Try rephrasing it so I might be able to read it easier, or maybe you could write it down. But please don’t wave me off because I’m deaf.” That’s what I want to say. But so often I don’t get the chance because that person said “Never mind” and moved on. I absolutely hate “never mind.”
In my experience, being deaf has been the least sympathetic challenge I’ve faced. Being unable to walk or being unable to see something has evoked more kindness and empathy from people than being unable to hear. I don’t know why that is but it sure makes me wonder.