Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Benjamin Stone
I'm many things: daughter, sister, friend, writer, pop culture aficionado, millennial, woman.
Oh, and I'm also physically disabled.
Of all the things I am in life, it's that last one that seems to get top billing, especially where love and dating is concerned. And honestly, this fact has always baffled me, staring me in the face like a giant roadblock. I've tried to maneuver around it, to push it aside, but it seems intent on staying right where it is.
But, really, it's 2016 . . . isn't this something we all should be over by now?
It used to be that society's perception of the disability community skewed more toward the negative. People with disabilities were seen as weak and dependent, living out their days sitting in their wheelchairs with a blanket over their lap and not doing much of anything productive or worthwhile. Sadly, for some reason, that image has stuck around longer than it ever should have.
NEWS FLASH: These sorts of misconceptions are just that — misconceptions. They're at once antiquated and damaging, not just to those with disabilities, but to society as a whole. They're insulting in their sweeping generalization and chooses to focus on the disability at the expense of the person.
Image Source: Courtesy of Melissa Blake
But! Don't worry because I'm here to set the record straight. In the name of NOT reducing people to a label, I give you four things I want men to know about women with disabilities . . .
1. You won't have to spend your life taking care of me.
It can be a bit overwhelming when you meet me; I get that. I was born with Freeman-Sheldon syndrome, a genetic bone and muscular disorder characterized by joint contractures, scoliosis, and other deformities. I've had some 26 surgeries and various hospitalizations, but despite all that, my parents raised me to be independent and never let my disability define me — both in life and in how I view myself. I can just picture your eyes glazing over at the thought of endless years of caring for my every need, but take it from me: this will never be the case. Besides, I'm sure you have your own hang-ups that others might deem high-maintenance, but I'm definitely not going to hold those against you.
2. I'm just like other women.
While some aspects of my life are unique (remember all those surgeries?), I'd say that's pretty true for everyone. After all, the world isn't made up of people cut from the same mold. No two lives are the same, but at the same time, my life is surprisingly "normal," despite everything I've been through. I still have hopes, dreams, and desires like my able-bodied peers. I have hobbies and passions and quirks that have absolutely nothing to do with my disability, which is so refreshing after years of going from one medical crisis to the next.
3. Don't be afraid to ask questions.
I've had people stare and point and whisper, and those are the worst things you can do. They all made me feel like a circus sideshow act, not to mention pretty uncomfortable — especially when I was just browsing the magazines at Target. Instead, come up to me and ask questions. This is especially true if we're on a date. Believe it or not, I want to talk about my disability; it's not something I'm ashamed or afraid of, and I've always prided myself on being 100 percent honest about everything. This is me, and I want you to get to know me, just as I'm eager to get to know you. So let's chat!
4. My disability IS a part of me.
In the end, I'm not sure I'd be who I am today without my disability. Trust me, I've tried to shove it under the rug and pretend it didn't exist, but I've realized that in doing so, I was denying a huge part of myself. A huge part that made me, well, me. And to deny that was doing a disservice to both myself and the disability community in general. Some people are tall, some people have green eyes, and some people have curly hair. While these traits should never be viewed as their defining characteristics, you also can't deny that these traits are part of the framework that makes a person unique and an individual.
As people with disabilities continue to defy society's expectations, I'm looking forward to seeing even more of these misconceptions squashed. We've come a long way, but there is still more work to be done. And you can bet that I'll be on the front lines leading the charge. After all, you didn't expect me to just sit at home with a blanket over my lap, did you?