I encourage questions about my disability, not just from children, but from adults, too. Anyone who’s curious can ask “What happened to you?” without fear of reprisal. I won’t be insulted. I’d rather answer the question openly and honestly than have people stare and wonder. But in the five years since my injury I’ve noticed similar questions that spark a response in me that is not nearly so positive. Sometimes I get a really sympathetic look and they’ll say “Did you hurt yourself?” or “When will you get better?” or “How long do you have to use crutches?”. There is a fine line between “What happened to you?” and “Did you hurt yourself?”. They sound like they’re asking the same thing but there is a critical difference.
The second set of questions assumes that my condition is temporary. This is like asking a stranger “When’s your baby due?”. These are assumptions that should never ever be made. Implying that I should be getting better is painful. It hurts. It’s a reminder of what I can’t do. No matter how long it’s been since my injury, no matter how well I’ve moved on, this strikes an emotional nerve. Zing. Like that spot in your elbow that manages to catch the edge of the table every single time. I think I’m justified in resenting the idea that I’m sick or that there’s something wrong with me. I know that some parts of me don’t work like they do for everyone else, but that doesn’t mean that I’m less of a person.
Now, I want to be perfectly clear. I realize that it’s not their intention to hurt me. I know that their questions come from a place of deep sympathy and human caring. Also, the concept of permanent disability is not a comfortable subject. No one wants to believe that it can happen to someone they know, or even themselves. And I’m young. I think this more than anything shocks people: the fact that I wasn’t born this way and yet I will live most of my life having to use assistive devices to get around. I’m aware of all this, but I want to make sure people understand where I’m coming from. Word choice and phrasing can be subtly offensive and everyone should be aware of the nuances of their speech.
I don’t want anyone to be scared or uncomfortable talking to people with disabilities. We’re not unapproachable. That’s why I’m doing this. Like most people, I just want to be understood.