Hello everyone, I am The Wheelchair Teen and I write a blog about my life as a black, disabled teenager: www.thewheelchairteen.home.blog. I was born with SPA-PN disease which means that I am permanently wheelchair-bound and have little control over my hands and fingers. But that doesn’t stop me from being a proud, strong and talented black young woman. I love sharing what my unique everyday life is like, as well as sharing stories of some of the challenges that I’ve encountered in life and how I’ve overcome them. I also write advice posts such as: Talking to Someone in a Wheelchair Dos and Don’ts and other posts introducing my readers to disabled stereotypes that they may not be aware of. My mission is to help educate the world on disabilities and what it’s like to live with one.
I started writing my blog a year ago while I was going through a rather difficult time. Due to my disability, I stood out quite a lot at school, and my classmates didn’t always see past my wheelchair to the person I was inside. So I was often ignored because students didn’t know how to approach someone like me. As a result, I started to hide what made me different and faded into the background. At the time, I started reading other disability blogs and admired how their writers weren’t ashamed to be themselves, stand out, and fully embrace all of the ups and downs in life that came with being disabled. Therefore, I started my own blog and it has truly helped me to be loud, proud and unashamed of my culture and who I am.
A Little Bit About Me
I am British, yet I’m currently living in the Netherlands where I go to an International Secondary School. I may be young, but I have a strong passion and love for writing, stories, poems and literature. Therefore, I especially love using my blog as a platform to give tips and advice on writing disabled characters for authors, and encouraging them to do so. I’ve also started a project to create my own superhero comic because I’m a big fan of superheroes and digital art as well. One of the main heroes in the comic is a female, black, disabled character who I’ve had so much fun creating.
My followers mean a lot to me, so I really enjoy replying to comments and interacting with the community in general. After all, it’s the support of this incredible community that helped me to start believing in myself in the first place. I also love sharing my opinions about some of the issues that disabled people face in society in hopes of making a difference. So, I decided to share one such opinion for this guest post:
What Most People Expect Me to Be Like Because I’m Disabled
Ableism (discrimination against disabled people) is everywhere in our society. Since disabled representation in media is so low (despite us being the biggest minority in the world with around one billion people being disabled), disabled stereotypes and ableism is a reality that I constantly have to face. These are the five things most people expect from me since I’m disabled:
- They don’t expect me to be smart
I’m often talked down to by adults who see my disabled body and instantly assume that my mind must be the same. They assume that I can’t read, speak slower when they address me, or congratulate me for merely stringing an entire sentence together. I often like to respond to their patronising ‘down-talking’ by whipping out whatever classic literature I’m currently reading and casually speed-reading my way through it in front of them, much to their astonishment. My advice would be not to make assumptions about disabled people or… anyone really: every disability is different, just like how every person is different. No one deserves to be defined by the ethnic group that they may come from, how they look, or how they choose to dress. And definitely don’t assume that an intelligent mind can’t reside inside a body like mine.
- They expect me not to be able to speak for myself
While out and about with others, people sometimes address the people that I’m with instead of addressing me. Once, at an airport, someone asked my mother how old I was. My mother simply replied by gesturing to me and telling her: “Why don’t you just ask her yourself? She’s right in front of you.” This also goes for people who pick up my limbs and move them for me without my permission because they assume that I am unable to do it myself. I can do quite a lot by myself, more than most people think, so I prefer it when people ask me if I need help before assuming and simply moving my limbs for me. People often expect me not to have my own voice, but my disability doesn’t stop me from being my own person and not just an object that gets pushed around in a wheelchair all day. My advice would be to never just assume that someone can’t speak for themselves, everyone deserves a chance to be treated like their voice matters and should be given a chance to share it.
- They expect me to be sensitive about my disability
I do understand this one because the reality is that some people are, but it’s definitely a smaller amount of people than most would assume. I see this issue come up when it comes to answering questions. I love answering questions about my disability, especially to children, because how else will they learn? I’d prefer it if someone asked me a question instead of simply staring because staring can feel alienating, yet educating people by answering their questions leads to a more open and understanding world. I feel sad when I see parents desperately pulling their children away or apologising after they ask me a question because it may lead to that child generating a fear of disabled people and I honestly don’t mind answering. My advice to those who do feel sensitive talking about their disabilities would be that: education and representation is the best way to combat ableism, and if we want a change, we have to be the real-life representation for these children by answering their questions and showing them that we’re nothing to be afraid of.
- They expect my life to have been tragic
When I tell people that I’m disabled, they often expect a long sob-story to follow about how hard and horrible my life has been. Yes, I have faced some difficult challenges in my life (who hasn’t?) but being disabled doesn’t mean that you can’t be living a perfectly happy and normal life with an awesome childhood. If anything, the way that I was treated in society and school were the hardest challenges that I had to face rather than anything physical regarding my actual disability. I would love to see more disabled representation where the character isn’t disabled because of a car accident and doesn’t spend all of their time struggling, but instead were simply born the way that they are and still love themselves anyway. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the first kind of representation, but disabled characters shouldn’t always be seen struggling through life and hating themselves because it sends a bad message.
- They expect me to be an inspiration
And last but not least comes one of the biggest pressures of being disabled. Disabled people are used as objects of inspiration so much, that people seem to think that we all are – that it’s our ‘purpose’ to inspire everyone else around us. But the reality is that most of us are just living our lives and don’t achieve everything that we do in life just to make others feel better about themselves. Total strangers pass me in the street and tell me that I’m an inspiration. They think that merely waking up every morning with a disability makes me a hero. While I’m sure that this is true for some people, I mentioned before that being disabled doesn’t necessarily mean that you live a tragic life and should be awarded for simply going about your day. My advice would be to try and start to recognise examples of the objectification of disabled people as objects of inspiration in society – You’ll soon start to realise how complicating and harmful this stereotype can be.
That’s it for my list about expectations most disabled people have to face – I hope that my advice was helpful and constructive when it came to how to avoid these expectations. The Wheelchair Teen (www.thewheelchairteen.home.blog) doesn’t have many followers yet and is still fairly new, so it would mean a lot if you would check it out and support it. Also, here are the links to the two posts that I mentioned in case you are interested in reading them:
https://thewheelchairteen.home.blog/2019/12/02/talking-to-someone-in-a-wheelchair-dos-and-donts/, https://thewheelchairteen.home.blog/2019/12/14/my-5-tips-to-authors-who-write-disabled-characters/ Last but not least, I’d like to thank LIFESFINEWHINE for allowing me to guest post on their incredible blog and I hope that all of those reading this will have a wonderful day.
I want to thank the writer for sharing her story and I really hope anyone reading this will go over to her blog and support it. You can click here to check out her blog.
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