Stereotypes are something that have always been and always will be in existence. However, that does not make them less annoying and less hurtful. No one is perfect and I think if honest, we have all been guilty of giving stereotypes to someone or something whether it be intentional or unintentional.
As someone who has been a victim of stereotyping, I try to look at people for who they really are and not judging them for who I think they are. I have a disability called Cerebral Palsy, and because of that I walk with arm-crutches. Over the years I have received special and somewhat degrading treatment because of this. There is usually not a day that goes by when out in public that I do not receive “the look,” or special treatment from someone. After dealing with this for thirty years I have grown not to pay it attention, but nevertheless it is still there. When I refer to “the look” I am talking about the gaze or stare that I receive from another person which usually displays pity.
I realize that the people giving these looks do not mean any harm but they are just not sure how to respond.
A recent example of this happened last weekend. I went out with my mom to the movies and to do some shopping. While shopping I used a wheelchair because since the surgery my energy is not what it used to be. However, all through the day I just kept noticing “the looks.” It was stare after stare and after a while one just wonders — “okay seriously, have you people never seen a wheelchair before?” “Do I have something on my face or in my hair?” (Note, that I am being a bit funny here but seriously it can be a frustration).
I used to travel frequently for my job, and a lot of times at the airport the easiest way for me to get assistance was to use a wheelchair. On my last flight, during the security process, the officers treated me different and did not listen to anything I had to say. Instead, they spoke to my friend and told her to tell me certain things. That was when my friend and I both spoke up insisting that I could speak for myself and that I had a mind of my own. Just because one uses crutches or a wheelchair for assistance does not mean they are less independent or successful than other people. It also does not indicate that a person has a mental disability along with the physical one, even though that is a common misconception. Some people can look past it and others cannot. I had someone tell me once that he thought disabled people wanted pity to which I responded, “no we just want normal treatment.”
I am fortunate that I have friends and family who love, support, and encourage me, and I learned a long time ago not to let these stereotypes of me define who I am. Jesus Christ defines me and I am so thankful for His love and grace.
I know I am not the only person struggling with stereotypes today and I want to encourage you not to let stereotypes and “crappy” treatment or thoughts from others define you. You are worth way more than that!
Everyone has a disability, some are just more visible than others. I want to challenge everyone this week to look past appearances and stereotypes and treat others the way you would want to be treated.