“Bless her heart”. That is the look I get from most people these days. Or complete avoidance.
I am an African American woman with a disability. I use a wheelchair. There is nothing WRONG with me! I have Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
Before anyone says to themselves “oh, I know someone who has that”. Stop now. It’s referred to as a snowflake disease because no 2 cases are the same. But I don’t want to talk about me today. I want to focus on how wheelchair users are treated. What I have realized is that aside from being in this chair, I’m still me. Perhaps a better me.
It’s friends and family who don’t know what to say or do. Example, someone will ask “how are you doing?” my response “great”. They will look at the chair, then me as if to say, “that’s not possible, your in a wheelchair!”. Look, I still love fashion and style, go to concerts, play’s, festival etc. As long as they’re accessible. When we see someplace that’s NOT accessible what that says is, only if you’re mobile can you worship, study, dine or enjoy these festivities. The frustration is what gets to me.
I can’t be spontaneous. I have to make sure that I can even get in before I go somewhere. Imagine having to monitor your hydration before you go anywhere or after you get somewhere because there may not be a bathroom that you can use. And let me say this now, LADIES (and I include myself because I’ve done it in the past). Do. Not. Use. The. Handicap. Stall. Wheelchairs will not fit in the other stalls. I know, they’re more spacious, roomy, blah, blah, blah. Just don’t do it. As Maya Angelou said “when you know better, do better”.
A few more do’s and dont’s. Unless we ask for assistance don’t assume. Don’t grab my arm thinking that’s helping. In some instances that’s doing more harm than good. Don’t ask why I’m in the chair. If I want to share that, I will. More than anything, don’t give them that “Bless her heart” look. I am a 57 year-old African American woman who has a lot to offer. I have a voice. And yes, I have a man!
-Terri Banks from Ohio and Advocate for disabled women of color “of a certain age”.