I know a lot of you will be going back to school soon and I wanted to share something with you all. Being disabled isn’t easy. We deal with a lot. More than people think. Growing up is hard but what’s harder is knowing that even if you really want to fit in, you just won’t. Now I know that it is totally fine to just be yourself. But it’s different as a kid and teen.
I can’t think of a time when I never got bullied. I was born with a rare birth defect called sacral agenesis. A part of my spine never developed so I’ve been using a wheelchair since I was three. As you can imagine my wheelchair was the reason why. Elementary school was bad. I got teased and picked on all of the time. The only reason for this was because of my wheelchair. All children experience some type of bullying and harassment, that is extremely upsetting. But when a disabled child is being bullied and harassed the bully is learning that it’s okay to treat someone badly because of a disability. That leads to ableism later in life. I also would like to point out that I’m not putting disabled children on a pedestal. All children say and do mean things to one another. I was no angel either. Actually, one of my top bullies as a child was a girl who was deaf and in a wheelchair. But for this particular post I’ll be talking about my experiences with being bullied.
I remember the fifth grade being the worst. I got bullied everyday. The boys and girls called me names because of my wheelchair. This was also the year I really started going through puberty. I even started my period that year. These changes in my body also led to unwanted attention from those boys who would already say and do mean things to me. This led to me staying home a lot and really getting into my writing. One day the bullying went too far and one of the boys who bullied me sexually assaulted me in a hallway. I was ten and didn’t really know what to do afterwards. It’s funny because that’s the year we started taking a sex education class. In that class I remember learning a lot about abstinence but not about what you should do when you’re touched without giving consent, or that no always means no. Even though I have a great mom and knew that she would have helped and had my back, I was still unsure about what to do. I didn’t tell her until I was sixteen.
High school was rough. Your teen years are the years that you desperately want to feel like you belong. But in my case being in a wheelchair made things difficult. I was the only one in the school who was in a wheelchair and even though I went to a performing arts school teenagers will still be teenagers. I never got invited to hangout outside of school and people always felt uneasy around me. I had a few great friends who were amazing and I’m very thankful for them because high school would have probably been worse if they weren’t around.
One time I remember going down the hall and a girl looked at me and then said to her friend, “people in wheelchairs are so scary.” I was completely annoyed and upset.
I also faced ableism in high school by teachers. When I was a kid I did ballet and played wheelchair soccer and basketball, so when I got to high school I knew that I wanted to do another sport. There was a sign up sheet for the new tennis team and I knew that I wanted to play. After signing up the teacher pulled me aside and asked “how can someone in a wheelchair play tennis?” They then went on to tell me how impossible it was to wheel back and forth and hit the ball. I was fifteen or sixteen and heartbroken. I knew that there were many disabled tennis players and no matter how much explanations I gave, the teacher wouldn’t budge so I never got that opportunity.
I threw myself into my writing because I knew that there was no way for someone to judge me because of my disability. That’s what I thought at least. When I was in the tenth grade I performed poetry in a festival. I wrote a poem about Jean Harlow because I was intrigued by her. The first time I performed it on stage in front of a crowd of students and people from the city I felt amazing, I felt like I could do anything.
I got a standing ovation and was almost in tears. When I went backstage a girl pulled me aside and said “you know that you only got that standing ovation because of your wheelchair, right”? I felt like maybe I wasn’t a good writer after all. I vowed never to perform again, and I didn’t the next year. I did perform my senior year and even won best poet. Even with the award I still felt like maybe I only got it because people felt sorry for me. Even now with all of my accomplishments I sometimes have moments where I feel like I’m not a good writer.
I thought college would be different but it wasn’t at all. When I first went to college at the age of eighteen I had a lot tough moments. For one thing the ableism didn’t stop. I would sometimes do shopping across the street from the university and one day I was stopped by a dean I believe who told me that he got a phone call about a young disabled woman crossing the street and how the person didn’t think it was okay for disabled people to cross the streets alone. I get it if I was crossing a highway but I was crossing a simple and quiet street with a crosswalk. I was then told that if I needed anything that I had to contact someone to go it for me. Why should my independence be taken away from me because of someone’s ignorance.
People in wheelchairs can do their own shopping perfectly fine and without any help. We can also cross streets like adults.
Sometimes after leaving for one of my classes I would hear the same two guys yell in my direction “cripple”
They would then run away laughing. I felt awful and tried to avoid people accept for my few friends.
I decided to take a break from school and attend another university. Everything was great until last year when I decided to leave because not only was I being bullied, but the “n”word was being used, Latino racial slurs, ableist slurs, and I was being called ugly. What makes this more awful was that there were violent outbursts which put me in an extremely dangerous situation. I had to leave, it sucked but dealing with that and already having doubts about being in college really shook me. I don’t know what I would have done without my friends Madison, Alex, and other people. And especially my mom and sister.
Now I’m here doing what I always wanted to do, and that’s have a voice and give others a voice. You don’t have to deal with people who hurt you. You don’t deserve to be bullied. I know it sounds cliché but your disability doesn’t define who you are. Don’t take crap from anyone, always fight for your right to be treated like a human. You have a voice and it deserves to be heard.
Good luck with whatever you’re doing in your life. You deserve all of the happiness this world has to offer.