Perception

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I recently asked a new acquaintance a rather telling question. We had never met before. We only had a few minutes to form any kind opinion about each other. He was well spoken, appeared to be quite smart and I posed a question. I asked him to respond honestly, brutally if necessary. The question was this: What was your opinion of me when you first saw me? His answer was pretty much what I expected:   “I saw a disabled woman”. I next asked him what that meant to him. His response? “You are someone who needs help in your life because you’re unable to do anything”. His Smart Factor dropped a few notches.

Unfortunately this response is pretty typical. People see the chair not the person. Once people get to know me they realize that I’m not the chair and I am not the disease. Yes, I am a woman. Yes, I have a disability. No, I am not a disabled woman. Cars are disabled, toasters are disabled. I have a disability. I also have red hair and an attitude to match. You see it all comes down to perception.

Almost instantly I had judged that man to be educated because he spoke well. Actually he is educated and attractive and I’ll say nothing more. People who live with the accoutrements of a disease run into this daily. Yes I may need help getting something off-the-shelf but don’t assume I’m infirm because I just asked you for help. This is why I have become a talker. The more I speak, the more people come to understand that I’m a woman first.

Is there an answer to this conundrum? Yes. Time. Attitudes will change but it takes time. It will also take people willing to support those changes. You cannot legislate behaviour but you can put the focus on the issue. I’m in a wheelchair, that’s really hard to miss, but I still function quite well in society. I don’t want the authorities to force people to do what is right, I want them to do it of their own accord and that takes time. It also takes people like me helping others to see, not beating them into submission. That is rather frowned upon.

 

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10 thoughts on “Perception

  1. oldmainer

    I’m glad you asked the question. I’m sure he believed he had shown compassion instead of condescension. I had my aha moment several years ago when I led a group of blind students in Junior Achievement. I posted a blog about it three years ago that, in light of your essay, I am going to republish, as it is such an important message. It is called “But Now I See”.

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  2. Mark Lanesbury

    Great post Pam 🙂 And a little story if I may. As a child I had a group of autistic and handicapped children in my school. And in my experiences with them I found that it could be quite uncomfortable interacting with them. Hence a lifetime of ‘seeing’ the wheelchair or autism and automatically not wanting to embarrass myself so I just didn’t speak to them.
    And for many others they seem to have had some of the same experiences and react the same, not wanting that embarrassment (for themselves) or cause any problems.
    And in never being able to interact, an automatic signal is to avoid, and in doing so, avoid everyone in a wheelchair, even though they can be attractive, smart, mesmerizing story tellers, and even have a blog to die for 😀
    So, after many years of ‘fear’, I no longer avoid wheelchairs, or for that matter, the autistic in all their forms. Shoot, I know some people that I would rather avoid than the beauty I can now see in a handicap or autistic person 🙂
    And it did take many years to ‘see’ past many things, and hopefully in this day and age, to ‘see’ that within us all is a warm beating heart regardless of our ‘mobility’ or ‘interacting’ with this world.
    Plus, and thankfully, our generations of now are able to ‘see’ a bit better (mind you, there still can be those like your friend), and be a bit more aware of their actions.
    For you it must be uncomfortable to be treated this way and landed in the ‘avoidance’ category, all for the sake of some wheels. Shoot, you do writing better than most authors, mesmerize with your humor and wit, and dare I say it…paint like Rembrandt 😀 , if that’s a disability, I’ll have two thank you.
    And that is not meant to belittle your condition either Pam, it takers great courage and strength to ‘live’ any type of condition like you or others have.
    Take a bow my friend, you have gained a beauty like no other, ‘because’ of where you have been, it creates an empathy for self and others like nothing else.
    If the ‘others’ only knew 🙂

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    1. quiall Post author

      Wow, Mark what a beautiful comment! (I’m teary eyed, smiling and taking a metaphoric bow!) I admire your honesty and your insight. You are a wise man. Having known you for only a short time I can say with certainty that the people you touched will remember you.

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