I still remember the overwhelming shame I felt when I had to ask a friend to come over and help me put my shoes on; it is often awkward being a physically disabled college student. That day there was a miscommunication between me and my personal care attendant leaving me with a difficult decision: stay in my dorm all day or ask one of the only acquaintances I had to put on my shoes. Neither choice was optimal or even typical for most people my age.
After a half-hour of staring at my purple, swollen feet and attempting to squeeze my toes into a pair of form-fitting running sneakers, my shaking fingers typed “I know this sounds weird, but can you please help me put on my shoes?” Upon sending the message, regret infiltrated my thoughts.
How can I ask someone I met to help me put on my shoes? I have only been here for two weeks, and I am already a burden to my peers. Noone will ever see me as a normal teenager; they just see me as a charity case.
Admittedly, these are drastic conclusions to jump to upon asking a friend for help, but as a disabled person, I often feel that my health and personal care needs put a strain on my friendships. Furthermore, I fear that if I constantly ask my peers for assistance, they will not want to spend time with me or invite me places because I am too “high maintenance.” Most friends are not interested in spending time with someone who has to wait for the lower tables to be free at the dining hall or someone who always needs to take the accessible route (which always seems to be longer than the inaccessible route), yet that September morning I realized that I was wrong.
My friend did not seem fazed that I asked him for help; only I was fixated on it. When I saw myself as a “needy cripple,” my peers showed me that although my specific needs may be uncommon, every person needs help at some point or another. Some people need help making friends, others learning math, and those are not shameful needs, so I should not be ashamed of my feet.
After my friend left, I went for a walk. My feet clad in red polka-dot running shoes carried me wherever I wanted to go. They were my feet, and whether I choose to accept them or not, they will always be my feet.