Recently, I’ve run across a couple of different articles about people with disabilities and our assumptions about them. These issues feel personal to me because I was born with a limb deficiency–technically a disability. I am no stranger to assumptions based on what people think they see.
The first link was being tweeted around some by some parenting folks I follow. A mom of a child with cerebral palsy writes “This is what a child with a disability looks like, right? Wrong.” You see, her son doesn’t Look Disabled. That seems like a good thing until you find yourself having to convince people that your child has a disability. Over and over again. I should be glad that I have the opposite problem. When people see me, they think they see a disabled person, and they make the usual assumptions about what I can and can’t do. I have the task of pleasantly surprising people. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard some version of this: “Oh! You can tie your own shoes! That’s wonderful!” Their eyebrows mark the exclamation points after every sentence. It gets old sometimes. I mean, I’m a grown-ass woman. You should not be surprised that I can tie my own shoes. Did you know that I can tie my shoes even without my prosthetic arm? Now I’ve surprised you! :) I understand the surprise. I really do. If I weren’t me, I’d probably be surprised too.
The second article was written from a perspective I lived myself: Pregnancy With a Disability. The woman, a psychologist, writes of situations that were familiar to me (people asking if the disability is genetic) and some that I hadn’t encountered (being labelled as a high risk pregnancy without a good reason). Particularly interesting to me was her brief mention of learning to breastfeed with one arm. In all the reading and preparing I’d done while pregnant, it had never occurred to me that being down one limb might affect nursing. And really, my biggest challenge in learning to breastfeed with a limb deficiency was in getting the nurses in the hospital to believe that I could and to help me try. Once I got past that obstacle, it was about as smooth sailing as learning to breastfeed ever is.
These two articles get at why I talk, blog, and publish about being different. I understand the assumptions. I’m not asking that they not occur to people initially. I just don’t want people to be so hard to convince when I tell you I can do something. I don’t want people to be quite so surprised. I want to change what you think you see, so that next time you run in to someone who looks like me, you’ll be just a bit more open to what’s really there.