Monday, March 12, 2012


By Victoria Beck

Being stared at was a real eye-opener for a long-time friend of mine who recently became temporarily disabled.

People stared while her husband pushed her wheelchair.

A couple days later, other people stopped her and asked what happened. It was hard for her to accept the blunt rudeness. It was even more difficult for her to respond; detained and unused to crutches, she was having trouble keeping her balance.

When she called me to share the revelation that people stare and ask intrusive questions when they see disability, I, out of respect for our friendship, only said “uh-huh.”” What I wanted to say was “No kidding!” Or worse.

Over the last seven or eight years, my friend has accompanied me to movie theaters, outdoor festivals, restaurants and craft stores. We are members of the same church.

Now, since I am never without either my crutches or a wheelchair, she’s been there when people have stared or invaded my privacy. But she is much more patient and forgiving than me, and she always answered my annoyance or frustration with this continuing level of ignorance with comments like “they weren’t staring” or “they mean well.””

She even said this when I was accosted in a parking lot by someone who launched into a long, confusing, questioning spiel that included everything from the color of my wheelchair to the fact that God probably exists.

But now that she’s experienced it first-hand, she’s not so forgiving, or comfortable.

My friend was so distressed by peoples’ attitudes toward her using crutches to protect a twisted ankle, that she, a member of our church choir and the pastor’s wife, refused to bring her crutches to church. She forced herself to walk on her injury, risking further harm, to avoid, as she put it, “being conspicuous.””

I am very sorry she was injured. I am equally sorry that being disabled made her feel so uncomfortable and unsure of herself.

. The fact that people with disabilities are still questioned about their lives anytime, anywhere, by anyone,  is indicative of how different, and separate,  we still are. This type of treatment is a crude, basic example of attitudinal barriers,  or intolerance. It’s very real and painful.

 The real problem here is my friend’s unwillingness to believe the problem still exists is not unusual.
A couple of years ago, I was discussing church accessibility issues with a pastor, and told him that having to sit in one specific area of the church because I use a wheelchair felt, to me, like I was being segregated. And having to use a side or rear entrance didn’t exactly make me feel welcome either.

He told me that it was unfair to expect anyone to understand these issues unless or until they had experienced disability.

I hope not.

-Victoria Beck was born with cerebral palsy. She is a former reporter for The Tampa Tribune, where she covered religion and disability issues. Currently, she is a Senior Editor and Writer for Shriners Hospitals for Children. She is also my mother and has spent much of her life devoted to advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities.

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