Student Voice


May 23, 2024



Handicapped defined by more than physical abilities

February 21, 2013

Whenever I enter the room, in a social context, others inevitably do not know how to interact and approach me.

I am the white elephant so to speak.

Even though I weigh almost as much as a fully grown bull-elephant, it is not the weight that makes individuals uneasy about approaching: it is my disability.

The sensation occurs to me that the disability is the only aspect that people truly see when they look at me. Not that I give a diddly-poo, but, as an individual, I am defined by more than just the physical capabilities of my body.

In classroom situations, the hesitation of other individuals can be seen in the way they interact with persons of disability. It feels like they are afraid to socialize with us because of some misguided, preconceived, ludicrous notion that they, too, will become handicaps by mere association or offend us by saying the wrong thing.

They simply do not know how to say, “hello.” There exists some concept that says, handicaps must be inhuman.

People automatically assume since I possess a disability, that they must suddenly speak at a slower rate so that I can understand them. They interact differently than they ordinarily would with “normal” folk. They assume that I possess a pathetic nature.

Sometimes I go along with their misconceived notions of how a disabled person should act. I pretend I cannot speak so I do not have to talk with them, or I blurt out odd bits of one-liners from “Doctor Who.”

However, I find myself putting up a false-front in the faces of many people, and perhaps other persons with disabilities feel much the same way.

I try to compensate the “normal” person’s ineptitude about approaching with a barrage of humor and charisma to keep them entertained and comfortable.

Basically, people are getting the long-shot when I act funny; I do so because there exists a primal need to fit in, to find that social niche in life and cling to it with every last muster of strength.

Simply put, I have grown tired. I need to create some small social awareness.

People (some people) do not have a barrier, or fear, about addressing a person with a disability, but they frequently associate weaknesses with the disability; handicaps can’t do this and so on.

They assume we need help and are incapable of completing minor tasks by ourselves: help getting in or out of car, picking up after ourselves, finding a bottle of Palmolive, getting a plate of food at a family get-together, cleaning the dishes, closing the fridge, wiping our noses, blinking and so many other things that are downright maddening.

There are other people who are haphazardly ignorant of the boundaries that should exist, like jumping on a complete strangers lap (who is in a wheelchair) or petting a working service-dog that is guiding an individual through their daily life.

Usually, I try to be funny and make a point, but this topic needs to be injected with sincerity and tastefulness, things that I usually ignore in my articles.

Simply put, do not assume that an individual with a disability is weak, odds are our disability has made us unbelievably strong.

Do not initially assume we need help with every blasted thing under the sun - we got this.
Do not jump in our laps on random occasions because you feel compelled to do so.
Finally, do not pet our service dogs while they are on duty (no matter how adorable you may think them). They are with us for a reason.

We are worthwhile human beings capable of doing so much more than is ever expected of us.
While people with disabilities appreciate independence, we do not mind the occasional helping hand. Just avoid assuming that we need help through every motion of our lives. We got this.

Tyler Smith is a student at UW-River Falls.