When I was in 8th grade, I had an English teacher who saw right through me, in a good way. She didn’t give me special treatment, but she understood my needs and limitations, and respected them. Most importantly, she certainly didn’t walk on eggshells around the “innocent” girl in the wheelchair.
I’ve encountered many people in life who have felt the need to treat me more gently because of my disability. I think that’s why I’ve always gone the extra mile to prove that yes, I am a good person, but I’m not this perfect angel that you’re making me out to be. No one is, except maybe Mother Teresa. She seemed pretty angelic.
Seeing how others treated me, Jacky always teased me about the “false persona” I gave to the teachers and students. I remember her telling me that being in a wheelchair doesn’t automatically make me an angel. Truthfully, we built the foundation of our relationship on mutual witty banter. I wasn’t afraid to throw some respectable sass right back.
One day, we decided to stage a little bit out in the hallway to prove I wasn’t as angelic as my wheelchair supposedly perceived me to be. I was going to get my first fake detention. She scolded me for some made-up situation, and I shot back some words to come across as the tough guy. My Spanish teacher from across the way looked utterly appalled. Jacky then brought me back into the classroom and slammed the door shut to emphasize how angry she truly was. Just kidding, it was so that we could uncontrollably laugh about what had just happened.
There was always this fine line between taking advantage of being in a wheelchair and not receiving any sort of special treatment from others. In school, I really had to make an extra effort to prove to my teachers (and even peers) that I wanted to be treated like everyone else. Sure, I never had detention, but that’s because I was actually a good student. Most of the time.
At the same time, however, I did need special accommodations that, technically, set me apart from the other students. This held especially true in college. Needing extra time on assignments, going into separate rooms to take exams so I could verbally say the answers to my assistant, and so forth, all fell under that umbrella. I always made these accommodations quite clear to the professors, especially the part where I was to have no more or no less than what was stated. This was my education, and I was going to earn it.
This idea of receiving special treatment popped into my head again the other day when a friend and I went out for a quick drink. We arrived at the outdoor patio to learn there was a wait of over an hour. As one host was explaining to us the best way to get a table for the next time, the other hostess slipped away for a moment. When she returned, she exclaimed, “A table just opened up for you!”
The host looked confused and mumbled something under his breath regarding the patrons who were waiting already. She shot back a quick, “Don’t worry about it,” grabbed our menus, and took us to our table. I can’t say for sure why this happened, but I’m going to be honest: I think I swiped my “wheelchair card” on that one. What’s a girl desperate for sangria to do?
There have been several occasions when I’ve swiped my wheelchair card. Cutting lines in Disney, getting VIP parking spots, and skipping waits at restaurants, just to name a few. This is where that fine line comes in. Yes, someone could consider this special treatment, but I look at it like this: Had I waited over an hour for a table, my back would have been killing me by then, making my night less enjoyable. Had I not cut the lines in Disney, I’d probably be passed out in a queue due to sun and heat exposure.
But, had I given in to those additional special treatments like in school, then I wouldn’t have truly earned my education. I wouldn’t have proven my potential to others. And, I certainly wouldn’t have proven what the “innocent” girl in the wheelchair is truly capable of.
You see where I’m going with this, right?
Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.
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