I would be naïve to think that people don’t notice differences; whether it be that it’s just the four of us all the time or the AFOs Ella wears, but I suppose that I assumed that we were much more further along as humans. Really, at first glance, I’m just an average mum pushing a stroller with an adorable curly hair child in it with two more curly haired ones trailing behind. It would take a second glance to notice that Ella isn’t walking or standing or that she gets frustrated a bit more than the other two when trying to play, but then sometimes it feels like that second glance never ends.
Ella is not able to really move her legs to help her in and out of things and with her AFOs, it can be hard to pull her out of things like high chairs or swings. Recently at the mall, I was struggling to get her shoe through the chair leg when I could feel people standing over us. I thought they were waiting for the highchair until I pulled her out and realized that they didn’t want the chair, they were just watching us. Not watching and asking questions or offering help, but just staring. I’ve noticed other people staring when we’re at the park or walking down the street, and I just don’t get it.
I know that the stares will only get more intense and will be more profound as the equipment gets bigger and more noticeable, as Ella begins to use a walker or wheelchair in public. But I also see so much improvement in Ella and in her abilities that it saddens me to think that people only see her as her equipment, as her limitations because they have no idea how far she has come. I know it will also be harder for the kids not to notice what is happening as they get older and more aware of other people. It takes a strong person to get up every morning and assume that the sun will shine down on them, that people will be inherently good, and it takes an even stronger person to ensure that their kids will always assume the same. Equipment or not, my job is for those three curly haired kids to see sunshine every day.
It might be hard to imagine, but it isn’t that long ago that people with differences weren’t out in public. Here in the US, we built institutions for them, or they stayed home, hidden. It is going to take some time for society to realize that we are ALL only temporarily able. If we live long enough, something is likely to affect every one of us. And we will no longer hide ourselves or our family members with differences.
It definitely speaks to how far we need to come as individuals and as a society around our perceptions of ableism and even what constitutes a good life