What Not To Do? Assume.

15 Aug

Recently, I watched the series of clips shown on Channel 4, produced in partnership with Scope (a disability charity), called ‘What Not to Do’. These are short clips, as part of a campaign by Scope, aimed at tackling attitudes to disability, by highlighting the awkwardness that many people feel around disabled people. Within these clips, was one involving a lady with a restricted growth condition (http://www.channel4.com/programmes/what-not-to-do/on-demand/62097-001) – and some of the interactions between this lady, and an actor playing the role of company staff member below her, reminded me of some of the situations I’ve found myself in before. So! I thought I’d share some of them – as things that can go on the list of, as Channel 4 said, What Not to Do!

Where to start? Crouching down to speak to me. Yes, I am short and it’s unlikely that whilst standing you’ll feel eye contact is as natural as it may be with someone closer to your own height – I definitely have to look up most of the time when chatting to someone, and you’ll probably feel like you’re looking down on me… but! Please, PLEASE never crouch down to try and resolve this! It happened once, with a teacher of mine, and I was furious. I’m not a child; you do not need to ‘get down to my level’, I am used to needing to look up in conversation – so just carry on as you would with anyone else! I was bemused that someone who had known me for years thought this was an acceptable thing to do, and upon reflection, I’ve decided that if anyone in the future does this – I won’t just accept it, I will have to explain how that simply isn’t necessary – and is crossing the line of acceptable behaviour.

What else? Having lower expectations of me because I’m shorter and have a disability. I’ve written another post, detailing what someone with Pseudoachondroplasia can achieve, in response to a search term I’d noticed had brought up my blog before, which questioned whether someone with this condition could lead a fulfilling life. (https://lifewithpseudoachondroplasia.wordpress.com/2014/06/23/what-can-a-woman-with-pseudoachondroplasia-achieve/). I shall reiterate this point. Just because physically I may be a little limited in what I can do, this does not mean I can’t aim highly in all areas of life. I try not to let this disability hold me back, I have many career goals for my future and am slowly but surely ticking things off my list, I hope to settle into a successful relationship and have a family of my own – as most others would hope to, and there are many, many other things I hope to achieve. However, like in the video clip I referred to at the beginning of this post, I don’t understand why people would expect less of me, think my life aims won’t be so high, simply because I live with a disability? So please, don’t ever tell me I’m ‘inspirational’ or anything similar, simply because I’m leading a life more ‘normal’ than you may have expected. I find it almost insulting that you might expect less of me, I am a human being, not a disability. I am not defined by my condition. (I have reason to believe this is how lots of people with disabilities feel, but I won’t speak on behalf of others!)

Thankfully, not every situation acted out in that clip has happened to me – I can’t imagine how I’d react if someone spoke to me like I was a child! However, I have experienced a couple of the others – being picked up on a night out, ‘because I’m so small’. Without asking (when the answer would have been a firm, ‘no’), just to pick me up is NOT acceptable. I am not a doll. I am not a novelty toy you can play with.

Finally, one more assumption that I wish people wouldn’t make, is about my ability to drive. Yes, I am capable of driving. And like in the video, no, I don’t drive a SMART car just because I’m small. I just drive a car of my choosing, with pedal extensions to allow for my shorter legs. Along with this goes another assumption that seems to be made incredibly frequently – my blue badge I have which allows me to park in the ‘disabled parking’ places. Yes, I am young, and yes, when I pull up it may look like a young woman who is about to abuse the provision of such parking places, but actually, I do have a badge. I have a badge because parking further away from the venue I’m trying to access results in me having to walk further, and therefore being in pain sooner. I’m well aware that my disability may not be as instantly understood as requiring a disabled parking badge, as say, someone in a wheelchair for one reason or another, but I wish people would stop making these assumptions that I either don’t have one, or don’t need one! So please – if you ever begin to judge someone before they’ve had a chance to display the badge in the window, wait before you give those disapproving/disbelieving looks!

Apologies for this post turning into a bit of a rant, that wasn’t intended – I thought the Scope/Channel 4 clips do a good job of highlighting some of the ridiculous things people with various disabilities have to deal with. I’d recommend you put aside some time to watch the whole series. I suppose I just wanted to highlight some of the assumptions that are often made about me, because I have Pseudoachondroplasia, and how these assumptions simply shouldn’t be made. I fully accept that the condition does change my life in some ways, but it does not define me and everything I do, so please, please don’t think it does! I would far rather answer a direct question, if you want to learn about how my disability might affect me, than for you to assume! Please, never assume these things!

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