Hello Nicole - August 1991

Hello Nicole:

I like this man a lot.  How can I make him more comfortable with my disability?

Sincerely,

Single


Dear Single:

My first able bodied boyfriend was so comfortable with my disability that he would often climb and drape himself creatively over my electric wheelchair.  We both thought this kind of affection was terrific fun but when we were out in public we suffered from many forbidding and condemning stares.

Kissing in public was also more unpleasant than pleasant – the general public simply could not conceive of a woman in a wheelchair kissing a man.  At one time people yelled out at us, “He’s kissing a cripple!”  It struck me that these words shouted so violently carried within them the basis of what many people thought, whether or not they rudely expressed themselves.  My able bodied boyfriend was a “He” – a person equal and related to them.  I was a “Cripple” – a monster.  In their minds he had been kissing a completely separate species, a non-human.

Much of the problem is due to the public’s lack of exposure to disabled people.  For example, it is quite uncommon to see a film or program on television involving a disabled person.  On the rare occasions when a story including a disabled person does make it to the screen the actors are almost never disabled themselves.  The real lives and bodies of disabled people are still being hidden.  What is displayed to the public is a beautiful (able bodied) person in a wheelchair, or a blind person with gorgeous eyes.

The uncomfortable feeling by many when they are around disabled people is because they are not familiar with relating to a disabled person.  They have been taught to stay out of the way of a disabled person, or perhaps to hold the door open for a wheelchair, but they have never learned that a person with a disability is as valuable as any other person.  They have never experienced the personhood; the humanness of a disabled person.  The only way you can begin to help them overcome these uncomfortable feelings is to be yourself and show off your humanness.  Be open about your disability.  The more comfortable and forthright you are with your disability, the more comfortable everyone else will become.