From a very young age, all the way to young adulthood, I’ve learned a lot about perception related to disabilities. Why? I was born with cerebral palsy. I depend on a motorized wheelchair to get around.
I am proud to be part of the #IWantToWork campaign, where young adults with disabilities are working tirelessly to make sure society sees that people with disabilities want to be treated like everyone else: to be respected, be included in the community, and to have access to the same jobs.
Not everyone has the same initial perception of people with disabilities. I got first-hand experience with that at the young age of 9. It is one of the things that drives me to do everything I can to help change how people with disabilities are viewed and treated.
My Mom and I love bookstores, so one day back in 1999, we went to a large chain bookstore Lancaster. My sister Lauren and I were walking around the children’s section, and I noticed an employee watching us. She said hello, and was nice. Back then, unfortunately, there was no such thing as e-books, so I would pick a book, turn my wheelchair off, and my sister would prop it up on my controller.
Lauren then told me she would be on the other side of the bookshelf, and call her when I needed the page turned. This was normal, we did this all the time, and so I said okay. When I got to the end of the page, I called for Lauren, and she didn’t answer. Normally at this point, I would simply drop the book on the floor, and go and find her.
But then, the employee in the children’s section came up to me. I remember it like it happened an hour ago. She said, “Do you need some help?” I said, “No thank you, I’m fine”. She said, “Let’s go find your parents.” I said, “Oh, no thank you, I can find them”. At this point, I started getting nervous. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her reaching toward my joystick. I proceeded to drop the book on the floor, and run like the wind, but I wasn’t fast enough.
She grabbed me by my joystick, and started dragging me back with her. Once I realized it was real, and not a nightmare, I started freaking out. I realized it was the same lady who had been watching Lauren and I walk throughout the children’s section, and I thought she was a kidnapper. I started screaming and crying, but because of the stigma of disability, the assumption that we don’t know what we’re talking about, no one would help me. I tried to get her hand off my stick, but I wasn’t strong enough.
I screamed at the top of my lungs. I thought, “Okay, if she’s going to take me, I’m not going down easily”. I was screaming so loud, that my Mom and my sister heard me from all the way at the other end of the store. My Mom and sister come running into the children’s section. My Mom plowed the lady off of me, and asked her what she was doing.
It turned out the lady thought she was helping me, because she knew someone who went to “a special school for children with Cerebral Palsy” and so she thought I needed help, even though I clearly said I didn’t.
This is the perception the #IWantToWork Campaign is trying to change. People with disabilities want to be respected, and looked at as equal, because we are. Yes, we have a lot of differences, that’s what’s beautiful about the world, but we also have a lot of similarities.
By Alexa Brill