Fitting In

In Everyone has one, Opinion by Ariel SilverSpirit

In our society of contradictory expectations, non disabled people seem to expect certain behavior from the disabled. They shield themselves from us, by separating us from the mainstream, only accept us if we can somehow pass as being “normal,” ignore us by categorizing us as a silent majority, or put us in the spotlight as being “special.” In this case, ‘special’ is not a compliment.

They don’t like being reminded we are part of the world, because we’re an embarrassment to them. Although many of us want to be actively involved as productive citizens, they only see us as burdens. “What if something happens to them while they’re around me? What will I DO, what if they hurt me or themselves, give me their disease, damage property; what if they die while I’m there?” Some people must wonder; by the way
they treat us, they act is if we have a sign on us that says, “DANGER: BURDEN, LIABILITY, MAY BE CONTAMINATED, KEEP AWAY.”

Despite our limitations and misperceptions about us, we strive to do our best to fit in and
make the best of the situation, by working hard, often twice as hard, to prove ourselves worthy of living among our able bodied counterparts. It wouldn’t be as difficult if they didn’t consider us as incapable even before they see us. As far as they’re concerned, all disabled are incapable beings, unable to decide what’s best for ourselves, don’t know what we need, or want, have no feelings, are not worthy of love, happiness, or the right to work, play, and occupy the same space as normal people do.

But we still try to fit in, though they treat us as if we’re imposing ourselves on them. We
try learning their rules, standards, and unwritten rules they live by. Some of us do find
success in various aspects of life, from employment, to having our own families, and even achieving the challenge of being accepted as a valued society member, but how do we handle it when people are less than supportive, often downright cruel, and distrustful of us?

They treat us as if we need pity, yet are unwilling to give us the chance to show what we
CAN do. Many will offer assistance, out of some deep sense of guilt, shame, or obligation, if not all three, yet make excuses not to help us, when we need them, claiming to be busy, making us feel we’ re the least important things in their lives.

They don’t see us as equal, or deserving of anything, because we are first seen as being defective, like damaged merchandise, to be thrown into the trash, unfixable and unusable in our
present condition.

If life were so precious, they’d do their best to be caring, sensitive, and hopefully have some compassion, yet many barely tolerate us, acting like they just wish we’d disappear, or didn’t exist at all, while others take advantage of us every chance they get.

This is why fitting in is so difficult for us. Though people may pretend to accept us, they’re often so uncomfortable around us; they can’t help but remind us. Someone with partial vision may use a magnifier to help read during a game of Scrabble or other board games, and the uneasy game mate may keep asking if they can see everything ok, and, despite reassurances in positive tones, the other person keeps asking.

The discomfort is so obvious and signals to the disabled person the other is unable to focus their attention on anything other than difficulty reading, making the game less enjoyable for everyone. This is very sad and ends up hurting everyone, causing any potential friendship to end before it’s had a chance to develop.

Asking for anything soon becomes a deeply rooted fear after many denials and excuses,
dropped appointments, and awkward situations. Often the disabled person will try fitting in by doing things like drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, and even crime, for attention and acceptance by anyone who’ll give them recognition.

Many of us seek acknowledgement through positive activities such as sports, entertainment, churches, spirituality groups, community service, support groups, political activism, and other acceptable activities. If they’re able to get to the event on their own, often enough, others may warm up to them and offer assistance, friendship, and
genuine caring, once they see how capable the person is.

All too often, someone unable to drive will ask for a ride and even offer gas money, yet are treated like they just asked to do surgery on the driver! It doesn’t take a telepath to know what’s on this person’s mind, “You have a LOT of NERVE asking me to help you!”

Usually we’re unprepared for all this, till we’re exposed to the world outside our comfort
zone. Our parents overprotect us and are scared to warn us, or may warn us to instill such fear of people in us that we dare not venture out. Society is ill prepared and unwilling to
acknowledge, accept and assist us in participating in their world. Instead of letting
their fears and misconceptions get the better of them, they need to see us in a more positive light.

We can assist in this process in many ways, by doing a few simple things to show them
the truth. If all efforts fail, don’t waste your time trying anymore, but be polite if you have to deal with them for whatever reason. Being positive, polite, respectful, diplomatic, and friendly will go a long way toward breaking down the barriers of our negative image.

When someone offers help we don’t want, we can gently, but firmly assert ourselves by saying, “No thank you, I really appreciate your offer, and will gladly ask for your help if I
find I’m having difficulty,” or, “I’d like to see if I can do this myself,” and, “I can usually
do this successfully,” are just some examples of expressing our wishes in ways they may accept and understand. Showing them our commonalities often helps melt the ice also, by finding similar interests.

Everyone likes to eat, play, has hobbies, hopes, dreams, and similar needs.
Gently educating them when they ask questions, even, if those questions are insulting, shows character and cuts through their fears. Questions ranging from, “Are you retarded,” to, “Why do you need that (chair, cane, glasses, whatever), can be answered calmly, confidently, and informatively.

Your anger is likely expected, especially if their tone is unfriendly. If they insult you intentionally, as in, “Damn, you’re blind!” ignoring them is probably the best response you can offer.

If you’re able to ease their fears, get them to open up, and even laugh a little, as I’ve done,
you’ll not only get them to see you differently, but you’ll also have given yourself a newfound sense of self worth, and accomplishment.

Fitting in can be quite a challenge, but can also be very rewarding. Once someone gives you the chance to show your abilities and “humanness,” they’ll accept you and will likely
tell others how wonderful their new friend is, seeing you now as a person first.
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