yes, i am the elephant in the room, so please stop looking at me

This is a guest post by Cara, a writer and disability activist currently living in New York. You can find her blog at That Crazy Crippled Chick. Logo via 3E Love.

As a visibly, physically disabled college student, and one of the only mobility impaired students to live on my campus, I’ve noticed a few things. As if college isn’t hard enough, especially when you have a disability that causes your muscles to rebel against you like disobedient toddlers, the reactions that other people have to you can make the experience ten times more difficult. Here are some things I learned in college that you will never find in any overpriced textbook:

1. You will become the elephant.

It’s like people have never seen a wheelchair before. You come rolling through the door and all eyes are on you. And they will continue to be on you as you crash into things and try to move all the furniture that’s in your way. Despite the fact that they clearly cannot tear they gazes away from you, they will not offer to help you (at least not when you actually need help).

2. Everyone will know your name. Or not.

You will be reduced to the mobility aid you happen to be using at the time. For years, I was called “Wheels” by the crossing guard who didn’t bother to ask my name until he had already seen me crossing the street every single day (I repeat: for the last two and a half years). And even then, he preferred to call me Wheels. I got so tired of trying to make people remember my name that I told friends to refer to me as “crazy scooter girl” when they were discussing me with other students at KU. Even the coffee shop ladies not only remembered me, but remembered my order, every time I went in there. I was unforgettable, no matter how hard I tried to blend in. Just another student, nothing to see here, can we move on?

3. No, really, tell me again how “lucky” I am.

For some reason, people are under the impression that my accommodations are something special that I get because I’m perfect or something. Well, let me correct that assumption for you real quick — I am nowhere near perfect. I am about as far away from perfect as you can possibly get. I get my accommodations because I need them. For example, people were intensely jealous of the fact that I had a key to open my mailbox instead of a combination lock. I’ll tell you what: put a thick, woolly sock on your hand and try to open a combination lock. That’s what it’s like for me. I’m not lucky because I get accommodations. I need them in order to do everything that everyone else does. They’re not giving me an advantage — they’re leveling the playing field.

I feel I learned a lot more about life and human behavior in college from the simple everyday going about campus than I did from any class. I’m hoping to write a survival guide someday for students with disabilities, particularly physical disabilities, in college. In the meantime, you can check out my blog at That Crazy Crippled Chick. Hope you enjoy!

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