“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity”
-Martin Luther King Jr.
Traveling can be such a pain. I love seeing new places and meeting new people but traveling is exhausting. Once you get to your final destination, all the hustle and bustle of traveling seems worth it but when you’re in the moment, traveling can seem like anything but fun.
Having lived in Pittsburgh on my own for a semester, I used to fly home quite often and actually had it down to an art. The people who drove me to the airport would help me to get checked in on my flight and would request a wheelchair for me which is so much easier instead of struggling to walk through the airport with my less than perfect balance. Once a wheelchair arrived, an airport employee would take me through security and straight to my gate. Having that treatment made traveling seem like a piece of cake, it was so simple!
Although being pushed around in a wheelchair made everything less stressful, I’m not the biggest fan of the idea. Using a wheelchair or any device to help with my walking is something I avoid at all possible costs. It’s not that I have anything against wheelchairs, walkers, scooters, etc, I’m just too stubborn to use one on a regular basis. Even in college, using a scooter was a little shot to my pride but it made getting around campus so much easier and gave me independence.
Despite my hesitations, I have learned that it’s easier to use a wheelchair in an airport instead of dealing with my shaky legs, whether I’m traveling by myself or with somebody. So when flying to Michigan last week to visit family, I used a wheelchair to navigate through the airport. After we made our way through security, we stopped to grab something to eat before heading to the flight gate. However, a problem we ran into was trying to fit this massive wheelchair into the eating areas just to order something. The register was tucked back in a narrow corner with tables and chairs on one side and a counter on the other. Barely one person with a suitcase could fit through, let alone one of the airport’s wheelchairs. I understand restaurants at airports are limited in space to work with and probably have to follow certain regulations due to security but some of the places were impossible to squeeze a wheelchair into; it’s not the difficult to make an area wide enough for a wheelchair and at least another person to stand side by side. Sometimes I wish everyone was forced to experience what it is like to be physically disabled and then people might see firsthand how inaccessible the world is. Yes, there are ADA regulations and requirements but most able-bodied people don’t comply with these rules because it does not directly affect them or it costs too much money to make it more accessible.
After struggling to find a wide enough area to fit into the line, we finally made it back to the register. As i was waiting for my mom to order the food, a woman came up to the chair and in a slightly condescending voice (although she probably had kind intentions), she went on to tell me what a beautiful girl I was and how pretty my dress was.
This was all very nice to hear and personally I really liked my dress too but her tone of voice was not appreciated. It was very obvious that she saw the wheelchair, my slightly different facial expressions and assumed I must be mentally or developmentally disabled. Although I wanted to say something to her about making such an ignorant assumption, I smiled sweetly and replied “Thank you, that’s so kind of you to say”.
After placing our order and knowing exactly what was happening, my mom turned around, reiterating what I had said to the woman and backed the wheelchair out of the tight area.
What gives people the right to assume things like that?! I was just sitting in the wheelchair, minding my own business waiting for my mom to place the order because I could not reach the counter top and all of a sudden this women decides to come up to me, assuming I’m mentally disabled. Just because I was in a wheelchair and look somewhat different from you, does not mean I’m mentally disabled. A wheelchair should tell you I have trouble walking or am not able to walk, that’s it. Making any other assumption about me being mentally disabled insults my intelligence and what I’ve accomplished in life. The woman probably thought talking to me was a nice gesture or maybe she was making small talk but it came off rude and made me feel very self-conscious, depressed, and angry.
Nothing irritates me more than narrow-minded, uneducated people like that who make assumptions based on their limited knowledge. Not all people with disabilities are the same. So next time you see someone with a handicap or disability, please don’t make an assumption about their disability, don’t talk down to them or treat them like a two-year old, rather treat them with respect, like you would want to be treated.
“You are not entitled to your opinion. You’re entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant”