written by Aundrea Santiago (original publication on Rappler 02/12/2014)
Very few people get to experience life from both sides of the page. What do I mean by this? You’re either born “normal” or handicapped and that’s how you will be for the rest of your life. But for some people, they start their life normal but get stripped of the privilege of being able-bodied for countless reasons like vehicular accidents, stroke, and other health related factors. I for one got to experience this first-hand. I’m one of these people.
I lived an average and somewhat boring life, following a specific daily routine. I stayed out of people’s way and minded my own business. I don’t go out on a Friday night and party with my friends. But I do engage in most of the school activities. I’m not a total bore, you know. This is why I’m used to people not giving me the time of day. But all that changed.
I was seventeen when I found out I have this incredibly rare autoimmune muscular disorder called Polymyositis. As a college student, I was thrilled to hear that news. But as a human being, I was devastated. I took this on with a positive mind and just told myself that this would be a perfect excuse to get some time off college. Because of this awesome disease of mine, I had to be in a wheelchair 99% of the time. That was just basically so that I wouldn’t inconvenience the people that are taking care of me. I mean who would want to carry a 110lbs (now 130lbs) girl around?
Power of the chair
There is something about a wheelchair that makes people treat you differently. Whenever my parents and I go out, when people notice that I’m in a wheelchair they would always stare at my legs. They will always have this confused look on their faces because my legs look completely normal. They’re not amputated or paralyzed, they just don’t feel like listening to my brain when it tells them to move. I noticed that most of the people don’t know how to act around people who in wheelchairs.
After a few months, I was able to regain my strength and I was able to stand and walk on my own again. People stopped noticing me again. I was back to my old self. You think it stops there? You thought wrong, my friend. My sneaky disease came back but this time it was worse. Not only were my limb muscles weak, but also my throat and respiratory muscles too. So this time, I wasn’t able to swallow properly and the doctor had to put a nasogastric tube in me to prevent aspiration and malnutrition. Having a tube sticking out of your nose and sitting on a wheelchair only made people stare longer than they did before.
I don’t mind all the staring and whispering people do when they see me. I actually liked the attention. I love it when little kids stare at me when I’m on my wheelchair. Their facial expression range from “why is that girl sitting on a chair with wheels?” to “wow! I want to ride on that moving chair too!” It is pretty entertaining to see how people react when they see a person in a wheelchair.
Two kinds of people
I noticed that there are two kinds of people when it comes to PWDs. There are those who are considerate and they would actually try and help you out however they can. But there are also those who couldn’t care less. Luckily for me, I have seen more people who care and have kind hearts rather than those who don’t.
Let me just state examples of acts done by these two kinds of people. I want you to see the difference clearly. First, I’m gonna list the times people were inconsiderate. It doesn’t matter whether they knowingly are or not.
When we are at the mall, some people, especially teenagers, are in such a hurry to get in the elevator that they would run in front of PWDs, senior citizens and even pregnant women just to get in the elevator first. I mean can’t you read the sign posted on elevator doors to give priority to PWDs, senior citizens and pregnant women? And don’t even get me started on parking spaces. There are parking spaces reserved for PWDs for a reason. There are numerous times where I see people, all able-bodied people without a single PWD or senior citizen in sight, that park in those said spaces. So people who are with PWDs and senior citizen have no choice but to park at the farthest space because inconsiderate a**holes like them took away their privilege of having a closer parking space.
But since I’m a good person, I just let all those inconsiderate jerks off the hook. I just think that maybe they weren’t educated properly and it’s not their fault.
Now, let’s get back to a more positive note. For every monster you meet there is always an angel in disguise standing by, ready to save you. I experienced going to a mall show and the employees of that particular mall really took care of me. They put me in front of the front row and we got to park in the handicapped parking space. These little things are what make our lives a lot easier. Little things that most people take for granted but are extremely important.
All I’m saying is, we must all learn to be more considerate. Offer your assistance whenever you can. And it’s okay to stare but please don’t be too quick to judge.