Being twenty-one and disabled often feels like an oxymoron. My college apartment has makeup and textbooks, but also baby wipes and rubber gloves. While many of my friends are working several jobs and studying abroad, I am lucky to have had one job and be able to make it to class on time. While I am not ashamed of my disability, at times I feel left out and lonely. I thought my days of being left out ended when I grew out of neighborhood games like Red Rover and Manhunt, but being twenty-one and disabled is just as isolating. The only difference is the isolation is less obvious. While I love my life, it is hard not to wonder if I am missing out. I depend on personal care assistants to shower and dress me, which means I am at the mercy of another person’s schedule. I need accessible housing, which makes it hard when my non disabled friends invite me to their inaccessible apartments. I do not drive, which makes it hard when my friends want to meet up somewhere and I do not have a ride. My peers post about assisted suicide, as if the value of my life is a mere intellectual debate, dependent on their narrow definition of “quality of life,” which makes it hard to relate to them. It is hard existing in a world that obviously was not designed to meet my needs.
Perhaps the most isolating part of being disabled and twenty-one is seeing my friends in romantic relationships and going out. While my friends party on a regular basis, I cannot easily change my outfits. If I want to go out, I need to plan my outfit accordingly; nothing too racy that I cannot wear to class or around campus, but nothing too boring. My body does not metabolize alcohol easily like most people my age, so I need to watch how much I drink. This makes me feel like I am not a normal twenty-one year old who can be care-free and wild. I cannot help but wonder if my peers would even consider me as an “option,” which sounds like a self-defeating statement, but it is a question I live with everyday. All of these factors make me sound boring and high maintenance, two things that are not of high demand in college relationships or even friendships. No, relationships neither define nor complete the college experience, but it is easy for my able-bodied peers to tell me I am not missing out on things they take for granted.
I feel as though my peers judge me before they know me. They like me when I am smiling and zooming in my wheelchair to class, but they get annoyed when certain parts of campus area under construction in order to improve accessibility. I think many people like the prototype of a disabled person–inspiring, cute, innocent, quiet, but the second I have an opinion, that is thrown out the window. People like the disabled girl until she has an opinion. That never stops me from voicing my opinion, though. My purpose in life is not to appease others or assimilate to able-bodied culture; it is to spread my message about eradicating ableism.
While I do not want people to pity me, I want people to understand me. Existing as a twenty-one-year-old disabled woman is complex, at times frustrating. My existence is full of contradictions–sometimes I feel more like my life resembles that of a toddler, other times, a ninety-year-old. At the same token, I am young and want to live my life, try new things, and be spontaneous. Just because I cannot carry out these desires in the way a typical twenty-one year old can, does not mean that I do not do them.
This maybe sounds weird, but contrary to the notion of your “missing out” because of your disability, you seem like you’ve used your experiences with disabilities to open others’ eyes (including mine) to things that able-bodied people often don’t think about.
As for the significant other and friends, hopefully you can have people who can understand you (or at least are willing to learn if they don’t understand).
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