The kid recently asked me if I wished I could walk. And I know we’re supposed to build up suspense in our writing, but I told her no.
We’ve talked about disability awareness before, but she’s never asked me this question.
I’ll start this by saying I used to be an ambulatory wheelchair user.
That is a thing, it’s not some kind of miracle when wheelchair users get out of our chairs. Sit down.
Growing up, I would walk in Physical Therapy. With a walker and then crutches. As an exercise. To build up my stamina to walk other places. And to learn how to fall. Because that’s a thing, too.
I’d be standing on a mat, or in the PT hallway, and my therapist (who I actually loved very much), would um, casually move one of my crutches to put me off balance. I would then fall in two or three stages, as I’d learned.
I’d walk in public at the mall or the movies, or my grandmother’s kitchen.
Everywhere but Grandma’s house, I felt like I was on show.
Like even at eight, I had to prove myself.
‘What’s wrong with you?’
‘Nothing. Motorcycle accident.’
‘Look, she’s walking. God bless her.’
‘Thanks. Also eff off.’
‘What happened to you?’
‘I was born.’
The motorcycle accident thing is forever a joke, but I have Cerebral Palsy. We know this, no big deal.
One weekend, I took my PT skills to the movies.
Dad and I always stayed to the end of the credits (still do) because it’s not over until you see everyone who worked on it.
Anyway, I’m walking up the incline with my crutches and my Dad. There are two old ladies behind us.
Whispering loudly. About me.
I overstepped with one crutch. I went down on my knees, then my hip, then on my back, without hitting my head.
Three sets of eyes above me. Only one set I didn’t have to prove myself to. And I got up. Using my knees to push off the ground.
A little while later, I said, ‘they wanted to see something, so I thought that would shut them up.’
My Dad told that story in his speech at my wedding. After I dove down the aisle in my wheelchair.
To back it up one more time, when I was about 16, I decided to become a full-time wheelchair user.
I thought I could concentrate more on my studies without the extra brain work and yes, pain it took to walk around. Because even when we’re not thinking we’re thinking.
And even though I had OT with PT as a kid, and knew how to carry things with crutches, and do things standing up, I could do more with my wheelchair than on my feet.
Fully accepting my life on wheels was not the end, but the beginning. So, no. I don’t wish I could walk.
I wish for wider access for disabled people. I wish other people fully accepted their disabled bodies.
I wish the parents of disabled children knew that walking (or hearing or seeing) should not be the goal for your child. Don’t make them assimilate, or become non-disabled.
The point is where they’re going, not how they get there.
Please be the one person we don’t have to prove ourselves to.
We shouldn’t have to prove ourselves to anyone. We have other things to do.
Because I have goals, and walking unaided, erasing my disability is not one of them.
‘Do you wish I could walk?’ I asked my kid.
‘No, you wouldn’t be you if you did,’ she said.
This post originally appeared on the blog, Gin & Lemonade