I find that an interesting phenomenon takes place when I meet new people and I’m using a mobility aid. Of course, the idea that everyone has a tendency to judge others based on first appearances is nothing new; it’s not even necessarily always something negative, but a normal instinctual response made to gain information by assessing a situation. Even so, I find I am estimated incredibly differently when I meet new groups of people with and without mobility aids.
When you first meet a group of people, they assess your social status via the way you appear – makeup, hair, clothes, attitude, speech patterns. Perhaps I am being over-sensitive, but I find that I am perceived as less of a threat, particularly by women and to women, when I am using a walking stick or joint and muscle braces. This can, of course, be a positive thing; I am able to make friends more easily, and women tolerate me talking to their partners far more easily too – however, I think the reason for this is because, to complete strangers, mobility aids take away some of my humanity. I am seen not as a potential partner, or someone who is potentially attractive in some way (and therefore some sort of threat), but as an alien, or a thing. This is a subconscious response, I am sure, but it is still real. I have no interest at all in disrupting others’ relationships, not least because I am both asexual and aromantic, but the fact remains that there is little I despise more than knowing I am underestimated.
I have no interest at all in disrupting others’ relationships, not least because I am both asexual and aromantic, but the fact remains that there is little I despise more than knowing I am underestimated.
Because of this way that others sometimes respond to me, most of the time allowing myself to wear muscle supports and use walking sticks feels a lot like debasing myself, and this is something I can’t stand, even though I know it’s wrong, though I know I shouldn’t feel this way.
Allowing myself to wear muscle supports and use walking sticks feels a lot like debasing myself.
So, I go out of my way to hide my aids and personalise my mobility aids; I’ve ironed on patches to my neck brace so it’s covered in little cats and spaceships. My goal has always been to make my brace look more like a choker or accessory rather than what it really is, so that people treat me better and underestimate me less. This way, when people mention my neck brace it’s to compliment it as a fashion item, as if it was something I am wearing out of choice, and this makes me feel powerful.
When people mention my neck brace it’s to compliment it as a fashion item, as if it was something I am wearing out of choice, and this makes me feel powerful.
But, of course, I know it’s just an illusion. It shouldn’t matter what other people think. Maybe if I was a braver or stronger person, or someone with a little less pride, these things wouldn’t be so important to me, but they are. It isn’t right that we live in a society that makes disabled people feel this way. There’s such incredible pressure to pass as ‘abled’. I can’t imagine how I would manage if I was, say, confined to a wheelchair, or if I had no choice at all and had to use mobility aids all the time to even function. It’s enough to drive a person insane.
As a whole, our society is on the way up, but we’ve a long way to go. I’m just sick of people staring.