By Mark E. Smith
Come on, someone’s said it to you. Maybe it was a friend, a colleague, or a love interest. And, admit it, you took it as a compliment.
Me, not so much. See, whenever anyone’s said it to me, I’ve struggled not to laugh, finding the sentiment genuinely funny, no matter how sincere the person has been when saying it: You know, Mark, I really don’t see you as disabled….
“Really, what part of this equation don’t you get?” I always want to retort, looking down at my body. ”…Never play the board game Clue because you’re the worst detective, ever!”
I’m a guy, with spastic cerebral palsy, who uses a power wheelchair – and, somehow one doesn’t see me as disabled. Really? It would be like me, at a “gentleman’s club,” saying to the dancer, You know, I really don’t see you as a stripper. …I mean, sure, you’re on stage, nude, accepting money from strange men; but, really, I don’t see you as a stripper – more like, say, a school teacher or an anthropologist.
Really, people don’t see me as disabled?
Look, I get the sentiment behind the statement – that the individual sees me as more than my exterior – but if that’s true, it should be self-evident in our interaction, not needing to be said. And, when someone says, You know, I really don’t see you as disabled, isn’t that really a paradoxical statement that says that they do see us as disabled? After all if one truly doesn’t see one’s disability, then the statement would never be made in the first place because the disability wouldn’t exist within one’s perception (call it a philosophical predication, if you wish).
Of course, I always want to turn the tables on the statement. Imagine if I was alone with a buddy, watching football on television, and I turned, looked my buddy in the eyes, and I said with a soft, sincere voice, You know, Frank, I really don’t see you as a man…. How long do you suppose it would take Frank to jump up from the sofa?
Or, how well do you suppose returning the sentiment to a love interest would fly? We’re cuddled up in bed, her supple hand on my cheek, and she whispers, “There’s something that I really want you to know – I really don’t see you as disabled….”
And, I begin kissing her neck passionately, and I reply in an breath-heavy voice, “And, there’s something that I really need you to know, I truly don’t see you as female….”
A lot of these Inspector Clouseaus are similarly – and, yet, completely contradictory – clueless as to how those of us with disabilities accomplish everyday tasks, as if it’s the Eighth Wonder of the World. Someone (who doesn’t really see me as disabled, of course), asked me how does one without arms or legs eat?
“With his or her mouth,” I answered.
“No, like how does he or she get the food to his or her mouth?” my friend asked.
“Levitation-based mind control,” I replied without blinking. “Floating freakin’ burritos – that’s what one eats when one has no arms or legs!”
Again, really? As adults, we’re somehow not smart enough to figure out that those who are quadruple amputees devise ways to eat – really? And, what gets me to no end is when those with disabilities, themselves, are the ones asking the most absurd questions. Logic tells me that because I’ve figured out how to live independently with a disability, so have many others with disabilities – therefore, there’s no mystery whatsoever in my mind how people get by in life, no matter one’s condition.
Yet, some with disabilities can’t seem to catch on to the concept that we all adapt and create pretty darn basic everyday living skills. One of the most common questions that I get asked by others with disabilities is, How do you get dressed? Really? Out of all of one’s problem solving skills, the one equation that’s unsolvable is how do I get dressed? …I always want to answer the question by asking, Well, how do you get dressed? Then, when they tell me the obvious – that they get dressed like everyone else! – I want to blow their minds with how I get dressed:
I had to rule out getting dressed standing up because I can’t stand up. So, because I can’t stand up in order to get dressed, I alternate between using high-class call girls (whom are strikingly reliable), and little people. Now, I know that using little people to get dressed may conjure up Santa’s elves stereotypes, but as long as I’m in a committed relationship with a woman of short stature – who so happens to be extremely attractive – it’s totally OK. However, when I can’t afford high-class call girls, or I’m not in a relationship with an extremely attractive woman of short stature, I have to opt for my last resort: I put on my pants, socks, and shoes while I’m on my bed, then I transfer into my wheelchair and put on my shirt. Does that answer your question, Detective Colombo?
OK, so maybe I’d better keep my retorts to myself. As absurd as the comments and questions are – You know, I really don’t see you as disabled or How does one with no arms or legs eat? – those uttering such words ultimately mean well. And, my giving any response besides, Thank you – that means a lot to me, or my seriously explaining how those of us with disabilities live independently, would almost certainly turn a well-intended moment into a creepy one really fast, sort of like sitting on the porch of a house in the country, on a warm moonlit night, and saying, You know, Malissa, I really don’t really see you as my cousin – wanna watch me get dressed?