I was having ‘that’ conversation at work the other day. You know the one where a person who is curious or has a particular view of you wants to validate what their attitudes towards disability/restricted growth.
It usually starts with ‘I don’t mean this to sound like it does, but I just see you as someone who is small’. I get really peeved at the ignorance of this statement, like it washes away all the problems and the attitudes I face on a daily basis. It makes these people feel warm and cosy that they’ve solved and categorised my life. That I’m alright. They try to normalise me.
So when I was asked by a work colleague whether I identified myself as being disabled, I think they were actually quite shocked when I said yes. It was almost as if they expected me to disregard such a label, that that is what society expects you not to want to be.
Of course I had to justify my answer. That I identify as disabled because medically, I have a label, I have medical problems which I manage and deal with. That I identify as disabled socially, because I can’t walk down the street without attracting some form of attention or at the worst end of the scale be videoed by someone on their mobile phone.
The latter statement shocked my colleague and maybe woke them up a little to the things I experience. That actually, while I may be perceived as ‘normal’, the things that happen in my life are far from this particular person’s version of ‘normal’. They see the Little Lady in work day-to-day. Not the bit where it takes me all my might just to get out of bed on the morning to get to work because I’m so tired. Not in the body that has aching hips or back or when it’s really bad, all together. They don’t see how I’ve had to work doubly hard to gain a level of respect that other work colleagues take for granted and assumed as soon as they walk through the work door. It’s the fact that I have to have these types of conversations means that I’m not just a small person.
It means I’m disabled, because not only do I have to deal with the medical side of things, I have to put up with people asking the most inane and sometimes personal questions that wouldn’t get asked of someone who is of average height.
Sometimes, I really wish there was a handbook for dealing with these sort of things.