False accusations (bullying)

The following is an essay from a Facebook friend  (Liz Lepper) who like me has spastic paraplegia. PLEASE read this and share. It speaks volumes:

Liz Lepper

October 19, 2011

False Accusations

Imagine your child bullied and taken advantage of simply because she is deaf, mute, blind, or use KAFO’s (knee ankle foot orthotics), a walker, forearm crutches, or a wheelchair to go about her day. Millions of people who have disabilities grow up knowing what being the victim feels like. Just because we do not function in the usual way doesn’t mean that we function below the rest of the “normal” population. The truth about people with disabilities, that “normal” people misunderstand and fear, is that we are not contagious, retarded or afraid to inform you about what is wrong with us, and this fear leads to ostracizing people who are disabled.

    Through assumptions that people make we are seen as contagious, when, in reality, all we want is to be treated just like everyone else. Have you ever noticed how when a disabled person comes and sits down next to you, you make an excuse to get up and move away from her? This treatment is something we have to face every day from our peers and other people we come into contact with. For example, you will often see me with a handkerchief because I dribble saliva due to my oral muscles having slowly become paralyzed over time, and I have had people shy away from me for fear of what they might catch. I understand why people react this way, but it doesn’t make it any easier to handle. I do not have a disease, but instead I have a physical disability. There is a HUGE difference between the two. A disease is something that your body catches and fights off, but a physical disability is either something you’re born with or have an injury bring on; it is impossible to “catch” a physical disability. For instance, you can ‘get’ a physical disability if you get Polio, Mumps, or Measles. Twice as a child, my Dad had Mumps, leaving him deaf in his right ear. Even President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was stricken with Polio at 39 years of age, even though it was uncommon to get it at such a late age. One would mostly see Polio’s onset in young children. More often than not, the worst of these children were seen as retarded and kept locked away from society, for fear of getting other innocent minds corrupted.

Many people come up to us and begin talking around us as though we are mentally retarded as well as physically disabled. If you had a child with a speech impairment along with a physical disability, whose brain worked better than the average person’s, how would you expect that child to be treated? “Normal” people do not see us as cognitively able people. This was made very clear to D’Arcy and me when we were in elementary school. D’Arcy could speak and understand information, but could not physically write, and because she could not write the information down due to her disability, she was given failing grades. I was losing my hearing and speech, and by the time I understood what my teachers were saying they had moved on to another classmate. Also, we got the pleasure of eating in a corner that was designated for the mentally retarded children, away from our peers just because we were different. I made many friends with the mentally challenged kids, but I needed to be with kids who could think on the same level as me. I was never given a choice as to whether or not I wanted to eat with them because again people assumed that because my body did not work right, my brain must also not work correctly. Another example of how people do not think was when my friend D’Arcy was taking the handicap bus to school. The bus drivers would be amazed that she could carry on a conversation because they assumed that because her legs did not work, she must be dumb. School for the past twenty years has been a nightmare for those of us who have the brain power but physically lack the ability to make our bodies work properly. The worst part is that when I was around my own peers, I was the victim of bullying. If asked, the disabled are usually more than willing to inform you about why we use the equipment that we use to get around and why we need them. I would come home from school many times with scrapes and bruises because kids would be “curious” and take away my forearm crutches and, in doing so, I would eat gravel. What they should have done was asked if they could see my crutches, and I would have said “Yes, but let me sit down first, and then I will let you see them.”  This proves once again, that children treat us with ignorance and sometimes malice learned from their parents’ desire to keep out people who are physically disabled.

People fear the unknown and react to this fear by ostracizing those of us who are part of the unknown. To be told by another child’s parents that they do not want you in the same school as their child just because you look and sound funny is painful to hear. This was blatantly said to our parents and even to us at one point in our lives. Yes, these words are painful for us to hear because they mean we are not worth getting to know and understand before judging. By not taking the time to get to know someone who is disabled, you lose out on learning information about what is wrong with them. For instance, did you know that “only 10-20,000 people have Heredity Spastic Paraplegia in the United States, and less than 2,000 people have the complex form of Heredity Spastic Paraplegia in the United States?” (SPFoundation.org) I am in the category of the 2,000 people, since I was only 2 ½ years old when I started showing symptoms of HSP, but I wasn’t diagnosed until I was eleven years old. The experiences that we who are disabled have gone through, have given us insight on how the mind works. As a result, we understand why people assume and act the way they do towards us most times. Society teaches “normal” people to fear and avoid people who are different, and in doing so, ostracizing any and all differences.

“Normal” people often make assumptions at first glance about everyone. When I come into a room, people’s eyes immediately go to my power chair, and they see the chair and not me. Society at large thinks that because we are different, they too might catch what we have. In reality, our disabilities are not transmittable and most of us are not mentally challenged and love to help enlighten other people about what is wrong with our bodies.