I woke up last weekend with sharp pain in my left ear, realized my regular doctor’s office was closed, and decided to hop in my van to head over to a local walk-in clinic. I don’t find anything particularly out of the ordinary about the fact that I handled this situation, but the doctor I saw did. After a quick look in both ears, the doctor (who I’d never met before) began peppering me with nosy questions that were completely irrelevant to treating my newly diagnosed ear infection.
“How did you get here?”
“Oh, so you can put your wheelchair in your car by yourself?”
And my personal (least) favorite: “Who do you live with?”
None of these questions were necessary in determining I needed a prescription for antibiotics, and yet the doctor persisted. Her face and tone made it pretty obvious that she was doubtful of my independence and ability to pursue my own medical care, despite the fact that I was clearly by myself and already right in front of her. Then, as I got ready to leave the exam room, the doctor practically lunged at me to try to help me put my coat on and acted as though I’d offended her when I told her I could do it myself.
On the flip side of the skeptics I encounter, there are tons of people who find my independence inspiring. I recently went to a dentist appointment and just as I finished up at the check-out desk, the receptionist asked, “Is someone already here to pick you up?” When I said no, and that I’d driven myself there, she said “WOW! I can barely get myself out of the house in the morning. It’s amazing that you got yourself here.” And then, of course, she tried to help me put my coat on.
This happens to me everywhere. People constantly treat me as though my independence can’t possibly be real. Here’s another perfect example: I’ll be minding my own business, getting in or out of my van in the middle of a parking lot, and a person will come rushing over to ask if I need assistance. I sincerely wonder why the people who ask me this don’t stop to consider the very obvious fact that I clearly got in my vehicle and drove there on my own. Really – if I got to my destination in the first place, I can do the same in reverse. I have a handle on it. Promise!
Whether people are dubious or inspired, their comments, questions, and offers of help always stem from the same basic assumptions about disabled people – that we’re not entitled to any privacy regarding how we go about our daily lives, and that we’re incapable of autonomous actions. This drives me up the wall.
Seriously, wouldn’t it bug you if the things you did every day were constantly questioned, or if people fawned over you just for doing something as simple as going to the doctor or running an errand? Or if people frequently assumed you couldn’t figure things out on your own?
So, here’s my philosophy on independence, and this extends to people of all abilities, disabled or not: Regardless of how people do things – whether they had help eating their breakfast or did it on their own, or whether they got a ride or drove somewhere on their own – it’s not anyone’s business. I don’t applaud random people for getting out of bed in the morning, nor do I ask how they did it. I just accept that it happened, because that’s how life rolls.
P.S. Related to this topic…check out the 2nd episode of my new podcast that I’m making with my friend Kyle, The Accessible Stall. The episode focuses on assumptions people make about disabled people, independence, and whether they need help. And let me know your thoughts on the subject!