When I was about six years old, I was given an award by a teacher because I took my coat off. I don’t specifically remember what this award was, it might have been a cookie, The award itself is unimportant. What is important to note is that I was awarded for taking my coat off. Something I am able to do, if I remember that it needs to be done. None of the other children in class were praised or awarded for taking their coat off. It was expected of them and they did it. But for whatever reason this teacher, whoever it was, wasn’t used to a kid in a wheelchair taking off his own coat. I was singled out and highly praised, for doing something that all of my peers were expected to do as well. I don’t remember much about this incident, neither the name of the teacher, nor, the sort of cookie. I just remember being singled out, I probably felt happy I got a cookie, but there was also a sense of otherness, embarrassment, a reminder that I was not the same as my peers.
It hasn’t happened often, but sometimes, people want to praise me for doing regular normal things. I think they do it because they think life is harder for me because of my disability. Sometimes they’re right. A disability can make life harder but that doesn’t mean that I should be praised for doing simple things. I am a person, I should be expected to go out and do the things people do. Go out, make choices, face consequences, live.
I think, sometimes, that our society’s view of the disabled is somewhat distorted. We are either seen as a larger than life inspiration over coming great odds, or someone always in need of help from other people. I am neither of those. I am a person, and in my stories I try see. my characters, as people, the way I want to be seen, as people, neither objects of pity, nor inspiration.
The world can be hard for disabled folks, yes. But the world is hard on anyone. That is why its important to give our children a proper sense of themselves so that they can live in it and whether any storms that come their way. If any child is singled out for doing what they know they’re able to do, they might grow up with a sense of entitlement, but if they aren’t praised often enough it will be difficult for them to have faith in themselves. Its important to inspire people, but do it in the right way, for the right reasons.