“You got a license for that thing?” the waiter said, grinning at me as I rolled into the restaurant with my wife. I hadn’t even been in the restaurant for ten seconds before someone made a comment about my body and how it moves.
“Sure.” I replied, resisting the urge to tell him to go fuck himself. Had his comment been about any other aspect of my appearance, there’s a chance he would have lost his job or at least been heavily reprimanded. Instead his comments are considered nothing more than awkward banter that I am supposed to smile at and ignore.
When someone says “you got a license for that thing?” I hear “Are you allowed out in public?” When it’s “Why are you in a wheelchair?” it’s really “Your body is weird and makes me uncomfortable.”
I am constantly required to explain my existence to complete strangers — answering questions about my wheelchair, my disability, and how my body does or does not work. And make no mistake: I have to answer these questions or feign amusement at comments. Not doing so could disrupt my day or even put me in danger. You think the cop telling me about how he “knows what it’s like because he broke his ankle once” is gonna take it very well when I tell him he’s full of shit? You think the interviewer for a job is going to accept “none of your fucking business” as an answer to “why are you in a wheelchair?”
I’d like to tell you that it’s no big deal and doesn’t really affect me. I’d love to say that my self‐confidence and personal success have made me immune. The truth is, these kinds of interactions are what keep me from making new friends or trying out any kind of group activity. I don’t want to have to explain my existence to every person I meet. I don’t want to answer any more questions about my health, chair, or disability or hear about someone’s disabled cousin or aunt.
I don’t owe anyone an explanation and I’ve decided that I’d rather be a little lonely than constantly wish to be left alone. I’m not going to spend my time educating people on how to not harass me.