“It is a beautiful thing, that you are getting a degree.” I stared at the woman seated across from me at the trestle table at the Italian restaurant. She looked back, taking me in—my wheelchair; my imprecisely moving hands—probably thinking she’d said nothing worth raised eyebrows. I however, was floored. She was flanked by disabled people. The host of the party on one side had Muscular Dystrophy, her own daughter, on her other side, had Cerebral Palsy like me. Our disabilities, to my mind, were having little impact on the conversation. Up to this point it had been sensible, engaging—I’d felt treated like an equal.
Then I was reminded. I remembered the occupational therapist who had objected to my move to Wellington, the best place to pursue my study interests: “But there are hills there!” I remembered every cab and bus driver, every stranger in the street who felt the need to stop and call me inspirational. I remembered the way my efforts in Physical Education had warranted awards that none of my able-bodied friends received.
People are trying to make things easier because by being disabled there are certain things I have to contend with. I don’t deny it, there’s the whole not-being-able-to-walk-deal. But on a daily level their comments irk me more than my body does (I quite like her, tbh). Comments that imply I am doing something exceptional in using my brain betray dangerous ideals we have about achievement and independence: that my achievement should be valued differently because I sometimes ask for help. That under “normal” circumstances we get there on our own, and moreover that we should want it that way.
Perhaps a useful note for the beginning of the trimester is, that we will not get to graduation on our own. We shouldn’t try. We will need help and should be working together as a community. Where my achievement, or yours, is recognized as a communal effort. That all these diverse paths towards our goals will feed into each other and take us somewhere good.
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