Monday, January 28, 2013

An Open Letter to the Students of PSY160

Dear fellow students,

It has come to my attention that some of you drop PSY160, more commonly known around KU as Human Exceptionalities.  It seems the wheelchair experiment is a deal breaker for you.  You don't want to spend three hours going around town in a wheelchair, seeing how people react to you.

You don't want to do it?  You don't want to see the way people look at you, and then look through you, like you're some strange species of animal that doesn't quite exist?  You don't want strangers to invade your personal space and ask you intrusive questions?  You don't want to be "helped" by well meaning strangers who aren't helping at all?

Maybe you don't want to have to deal with ramps and elevators that sometimes don't exist.  You don't want to navigate narrow aisles that were never meant for wheelchairs.  You don't want to hear the clatter and feel the embarrassment in your cheeks when you realize that you've knocked over a display again, and you rush out before they realize it was you.  You don't want to be called a fire hazard and segregated in special cripple ghettos in the name of false "safety".  You don't want people to stop you on the street to tell you that they'll pray for you, or that you're inspiring, when all you want to do is go get your lunch like everyone else.  You don't want to roll through snow and ice, risking your safety while everyone around you makes tired jokes about speed limits and snow tires.  You don't want to feel like there's a constant spotlight above your head, marking you as different.  You don't want people to pity you.

You don't want to do it, I understand that.  Because I don't want to do it either.  But unlike you, I don't have a choice.  For the past three years, I have navigated the KU campus with the help of my trusty motorized scooter.  I have gotten my scooter stuck in snow that no one bothered to clear, making it physically impossible for me to get to class.  I have dealt with a broken dining hall elevator that limited my freedom to choose where I'd like to eat for weeks on end.  I have watched people yank their friends out of the way by their coat sleeves, as if they're afraid my scooter is a Mack truck intent on running them over.  And that's just on campus - back at home, where I roll (pun intended) with a large group of wheelchair-using friends, the effects are multiplied tenfold.  I would never choose a different life - I rather enjoy my life on wheels, and my scooter has given me more independence than I could've ever dreamed of before.  But I dream of a day when a wheelchair is nothing special, just another way of getting around.  I dream of a day where the same opportunities that are afforded to those of you who walk on two legs are afforded to me.  I am not asking for a cure - I am asking, begging, pleading for acceptance.

I am your peer, your classmate, your friend.  And choosing to drop a class rather than come to face-to-face with the struggles I face every day demonstrates the height of cowardice and reinforces your comfortable able-bodied privilege.  Because unlike you, I can't walk away.  I can't drop the class and go on my merry walking way.  As much as I don't want to, I have to face the tirade of bigotry, prejudice and ignorance that is spat in my face on a daily basis.  I have dealt with this in one form or another for twenty years.  And you can't possibly deal with it for a few hours?  I pity you.  You'll never see life through my eyes, even for the briefest of times.  I have gained strength out of necessity, and you will too, through this project, if only the tiniest fraction.  If you are considering dropping this class for these reasons, I ask you to please reconsider.  It might surprise you to experience how the other half lives.  Maybe, just maybe, you'll think next time you rush to "help" someone using a wheelchair without asking them first, or when you park in a handicapped space because you'll "only be a minute".  Maybe you'll change your attitudes.  Societal change starts with one person - be that person.  Help us blaze a new trail - accessible for all.

A fellow student


LookinForAHand said...

You are awesome, and the scooter makes you (quite literally) awesome on wheels. They will never know the feeling of awesome on wheels, and they'll never know the friendships and relationships that can form just from a little common ground, but if any of these students ever tells you "I know what you're going through", just tell them they refused to learn what you're going through, and roll away.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised to read this, because I was under the impression that most PWDs were against disability simulations. Is this one exceptionally good?

Spaz Girl said...


I am not completely against disability simulations if they are done well and with discussion. My problem arises when people do a simulation activity and then think they know ALL ABOUT what it's like to be disabled. Also, simulation activities don't take into account other factors that can influence the disability experience, such as financial situation, etc. But I do think simulations, including this one, have their place.

Anonymous said...

That makes sense. I've never had one-- good or bad-- and I don't know how I would construct one, either.

Anonymous said...

Awesome job to the person who wrote this. I am in a wheelchair and have experienced all of the things expressed here. Thank you for helping to open the eyes of other people.