restricted access Uniquely My Own: One Woman's Experience of Living with a Physical Disability
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Uniquely My Own:
One Woman's Experience of Living with a Physical Disability

“I don’t know. You’ll have to ask her. After all, it is her wheelchair.” These were the words my friend said in reply to the airline employee who continued a stream of questions as if I didn’t [End Page 186] even exist. Maria* and I had just completed the first leg of our return trip home after a week of volunteer service in Washington, D.C. with fellow classmates when we were surprised to learn that, despite advanced confirmation with the airlines, my wheelchair could not be accommodated on the connecting flight.

As a co–leader for the service trip, it was extremely frustrating to be told that I couldn’t finish the trip with everyone and that if I were going to continue on, then I’d have to make the decision to leave my wheelchair behind. I felt that leaving my wheelchair behind was comparable to leaving my independence behind. Perhaps though, what was most frustrating was the fact that once again, assumptions were made based on my appearance about what I could and couldn’t do. It was figured that because I used a wheelchair and was of short stature, I was somehow less able to make a decision about how to proceed with the rest of the trip. I was considered “disabled” and the negative stereotypes associated with such label became evident.

Thankfully, I ended up making it home to my final destination after being separated from the rest of the group and booked on a later flight. It was inconvenient and annoying to have been treated the way I was by the airline employee, however it’s just one example of the ignorance that seems to surround what I term “disability etiquette.”

I’ve lived with my physical disability, Osteogenesis Imperfecta (O.I.), for my entire life. At the age of 25 I would say I’ve come to the point of embracing my physical limitations for what they are and rarely do I ever wish that I wasn’t a person with a disability. In my personal opinion, my disability gives me a unique outlook on life and my short stature allows me to see things from a different vantage point (figuratively and literally).

Even though I’ve come to accept my disability and have worked to integrate it into every aspect of my life, it doesn’t mean that I don’t feel a bit of hurt and shock when I have awkward encounters with people who, because of a lack of experience or education, only see me for my physical nature. It’s still a painful experience when I’m reminded that some people only see me for “my label.”

Approximately three years ago I lived just outside Washington, D.C. for a year. Shortly after moving I decided to establish a connection with a primary care physician. My first visit with the doctor was strange and after he said, “I thought only boys got O.I.” I knew this wasn’t going to be a good fit. Thinking that perhaps it would make more sense to visit a female doctor, I made an appointment with a female internal medicine physician.

Getting into the office was an interesting feat in and of itself. The so–called “accessible” entrance wasn’t very wheelchair–friendly and consisted of an uneven, steep ramp. Getting in required not only my calling to tell them I was outside, but also the assistance of a fellow patient to lift my wheelchair inside. During my first (and only) visit with the doctor she proceeded to complete a basic physical exam. She asked me questions about my health history, current social history and it seemed like things were going just fine. Until, much to my dismay, after having shared with her that I graduated from a private liberal arts college with a degree in Political Science, she proceeded to ask me, “Did you go to a special school as a child?”

I couldn’t believe it! Did she really just say that? With as much composure as I could muster I replied...