I admit I can be a fairly proud person. I like people to see me in a certain way: strong, independent, smart. Witty. Cute. Fun.
I was hired as a Research Assistant at the University of Manitoba this past February. The job is fascinating with a steep learning curve: I’ve written and edited a book proposal, a literature review, a big federal grant application and numerous articles. I love it, because I’m learning so much and feel so important to finally have a job directly related to my field.
I’m in heaven, basically.
I’m been sitting on this post for a number of days now, because I don’t like criticizing people. I have a hard time standing up for myself, because I know that more often than not, people with the best intentions would never want to hurt or offend me.
However, society inevitably seems to be set up this way, and I get knocked down a peg. Which isn’t fair to me, despite someone’s best intentions.
It wasn’t even that big a deal (but it was, I realize now, because I’m still thinking about it). My colleagues and I were in line for lunch, and I happened to see someone I knew from a totally different realm of life. They also happened to be part of the medical establishment – in short, they knew a part of my medical history. Anyway, immediately this person reached for my hand in an intimate gesture as it lay next to my wheelchair controller. Without really noticing what I was doing but feeling awkward nevertheless, I moved away from their touch.
Harmless, right? Right. I couldn’t help but notice that my colleagues had moved away from myself and this person, though. They were likely trying to allow me my own space to say hi to them, but I also felt like it was a commentary on how this person was treating me. Would they have reached for my hand so intimately if it wasn’t right within their reach? Was talking an octave higher normal for this person, or was it because she was seeing me a certain way? In other words, was she addressing me any differently than she would have another one of her former “patients”? If so, why?
These kind of thoughts keep me up at night. I only tell this to you now because this is the reality of being a disabled person, or basically anyone perceived as different. And it’s especially prevalent when there’s some kind of power imbalance, which there usually is between a disabled person and a nondisabled one.
I tell you this not to shame that person. She was only saying hi, after all, and who knows if the intimacy with which she greeted me was mildly inappropriate for the work setting we were in or not.
All I know is that in front of my colleagues, I felt shrunken. These were people I worked with, after all. I want them to see me as capable.
And I hate feeling that way, despite someone’s best intentions.
But best intentions don’t always make things right.