What Everyone Expects Disabled People To Be Like

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:

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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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65 thoughts on “What Everyone Expects Disabled People To Be Like

  1. Thank you. It is a very good post. Because of your post, I went and read the young teenagers post as well and followed. You may have touched her life in many ways through this post. Blessings

  2. Thank you. I think most of the time people keep away from disabled people because we dont know how to behave and dont want to come off as offensive or insensitive. So this is really helpful in bridging a way to learn more and find comfortability as you would with anyone else.

    1. Yeah a lot of people just need to learn/educate themselves and people like her sharing their experiences really helps. Thanks for the comment.

    2. I agree, I think that this is the reason that most people treat me differently. And I also understand why – most of the ableism I see is just people not knowing or not considering disabled people when they build or create things. I’m glad that this post was able to help though and I hope that more of my work will be able to make a difference in the future.

  3. Really interesting post from an amazing young woman who makes her point very succinctly. Thanks for sharing Pooja.

      1. Its always good to understand things from someone else’s point of view. It’s well nigh impossible for me to imagine what it would be like to be in a wheelchair or to have a visible handicap. I have taken on board your wise words.

  4. I learnt a new word today; Ableism (discrimination against disabled people) is everywhere in our society.
    I rarely go through long blog posts but this one was worth my while. I’ve learnt so much and unlearned so much at the same time. For example, asking what caused the disability. I’ve always assumed that someone wouldn’t be comfortable talking about it but like the author rightfully said, educating people goes a long way.
    Lovely post and I’m off to follow her blog.

    1. I’m glad that you were able to learn something from this and it means a lot that you took the time to read it. One of the biggest challenges disabled people face are just people not knowing how to approach them, how to treat them, or forgetting that they exist. That’s why educational posts like this are so important and why it makes me smile to see how much you’ve learnt, so thanks for the feedback. 🙂

  5. This post is very essential to be spoken of especially for those people who think that when they meet disabled people, they should have some kind of unnecessary special treatment towards them all the time, but sometimes the least they want is for you to make them feel less normal in every day of their lives. Sometimes they just want for you to treat them ordinarily like other people and less of the sympathy and more of the idea that they are strong enough to live commonly and happily just like what she has said despite being physically challenged. Also, a very strong point on educating and informing other people than being sensitive about their disability because I think too that a good way of breaking the misconceptions and ableism is to let people know that they are not all fragile human beings. This is such a great post, pooja! <3

    1. I totally agree with everything that you’ve said here! Being treated normally was all I ever wanted from my friends at school and the people who pass me on the street. Thank you for understanding my message so clearly and I’m happy that you enjoyed the post, I was so excited to be able to share some of my story on Pooja’s incredible blog.

      1. Thanks so much! <3 Haha yes, pooja is super nice and maybe someday I'll get to be on the guest post too. :))) You did so great with this post, Love it!

    1. Thank you, it was truly my pleasure to be able to share. In the small town where I live in the Netherlands, it’s extremely rare that I get to meet other people who are disabled too which is one of the reasons why I appreciate the online community so much. So, it’s nice to meet you and I hope that you have a wonderful day. 🙂

      1. I identified with all your comments in the post. I do find that people’s attitudes have improved over the years but that’s partly due to me being older. I’m middle aged and pretty vocal! Young people are discriminated against , as are the elderly, so I see some personal battles ahead as get older! It’s ironic that it costs nothing for someone to change their ableist views but it can be the hardest thing to achieve…. especially if you compare that to making a building fully accessible. Keep doing what you do so articulately….and I hope you have a great day too!

  6. Thank you so much for this. As a Healthcare professional everyday I deal with people in wheelchairs, and there are a big story behind that metal chair. So if ever you meet these people , have time talk to them and not Just stare at them from Head to foot. Please make them feel that they belong on the mainstream ☺️. Godspeed Pooja!!!

    1. I agree with this – approach them as you would any other person because staring can be alienating and make you feel different. I’m glad that your profession allows you to be able to understand and share more advice on the subject.

  7. What a wonderful post! I will definitely pop along when I’m back on my computer tomorrow for sure! I was born with a number of disabilities myself and I have experienced first hand the discrimination that disabled people face. It is damning at best!
    I think the only thing that I disagree with is not being an inspiration. You know, I don’t want to be seen as an inspiration because of my disabilities, but maybe rather in spite of them. There are a lot of people on this planet who don’t set goals and dreams. What should make us inspirational is our get up and go and our will to overcome every day. I don’t want to be seen as inspirational because I can peel a potato despite being in pain or whatever, I want to be seen as inspirational because I’ve said “yes I’m in a bit of pain, but so what?”. That’s what people should be inspired by, our will to overcome our own personal limitations, not the ones set by society.
    Great work, keep it up Pooja 🙂

    1. So glad you enjoyed the post and yes do go over to her blog I’m sure you’ll love it! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences about the post as well. Thanks for the comment!

    2. I’m glad that you enjoyed the post and that you could relate to the struggles of being discriminated against. I understand your point, and I don’t disagree with you, but have you ever heard of Inspiration Porn – the term created by disabled rights activist Stella Young? On my blog I wrote a discussion post about it called Inspiration Porn vs. Actual Inspiring People where I explain a little clearer what I meant by saying that it can be harming to assume that disabled people are inspirations because of who they are. But you’re right – some people are courageous for living with the pain that they have to edure, and that’s not just disabled people, that could be anyone living in a difficult situation.

      1. I have just read your post, and it’s very eye-opening. I’ve never thought of it like that, and it’s damning because afterwards I was like “holy cow! This is exactly what it was!”. Stuff like opening a jar, which causes me pain, is suddenly inspirational. To me, and like you rightly say, I’m just like “it’s a jar, why does this make me exceptional?”. What perhaps makes me more inspirational is the fact that I sat down one day and came up with an alarmingly simple idea for squeezy bottles for people with dexterity issues. People with mental health difficulties aren’t inspirational, but perhaps what made me a little different was my decision to go away and do something to help people who are where I was, and to say “hey, I’ve felt like there was no way out before too, and believe me, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Here’s my help from my experiences, for free.” I’ve never heard of inspiration porn before but now I’m aware of it, I will definitely call it out if and when I see it. Thankyou for sharing this with me 🙂

  8. Hello from a fellow wheelchair user from the Netherlands. Fifty-something white male, I’m afraid, but gawd, I recognise all of these. We’re in a wheelchair and that’s obviously because we’re intellectually impaired. Can’t have anything to do with our legs not functioning the way they should, eh? That really has to be my greatest bugbear. But the inspiration thing also gets my goat. I’m not an inspiration. I’m just a guy living his life. No more, no less.

  9. I just read this blog now and I must say I really enjoyed reading this! As a student with autism, there were parts of this that I could relate to. The author is certainly an inspiration to me, being able to share her thoughts on something personal to her in such a nice and well explained way meant that I enjoyed reading it. I look forward to reading more posts, and I have followed the page as well!

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. She’s a brilliant writer and person- I think you’ll enjoy her post very much.

  10. Pooja-Thanks for sharing this post and blog. I think that it is important to elevate voices like that of The Wheelchair Teen. We need I’ll be sure to follow her blog!

  11. Hi Pooja , I agree to everything you have said in your blog. I can relate to everything you have said cause I have seen people discriminating against people with a physical disability I want to become a counsellor and my first duty as a therapist would be to remove such taboos. I blog mostly about such taboos. I feel you are very strong and you have stood against the odds life has put before you. Continue staying strong. PS I love your attitude towards life. I am awaiting for your next blog. love dream sprinkles.

    1. Thank you for the lovely comment but I want to clarify that I did not write this post- it was written by the writer credited on the post. For more posts like these feel free to check out her personal blog- it’s absolutely brilliant!

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