Archive | November, 2012

Discrimination

19 Nov

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When most people hear the word “minority”, they think about it in terms of race, but people with disabilities are a minority, too. As a girl with a fake leg, I am a minority and I have been discriminated against.

I once took a Multicultural awareness class in grad school, and we had lots of great discussions. In one discussion, a white woman was visibly upset, talking about how she and her husband and kids always face discrimination because he is black and their kids are biracial. She said none of us would truly understand the discrimination they’d faced, being stared at, looked down upon. But I understood. And I wasn’t afraid to voice that. 

I kind of think staring at a person with a disability is human nature. I don’t think it’s discrimination. People are naturally going to be curious about someone who’s different from them. But people stare at me a lot; they even did when I was a little kid. I’d feel their eyes on me, and I didn’t understand. It made me feel different. And sad. Nowadays, I understand. But I am still aggravated when people stare too long, especially adults. They should know better.

I was lucky growing up. Kids didn’t really make fun of me for my fake leg, maybe because I really wasn’t much different. I ran, rode bikes, roller skated; I didn’t let it stop me. But there were a few times when people made me feel different, in a bad way. Mostly at amusement parks. Once at a roller coaster in Ocean City, and twice on rides at Six Flags. After standing in line, I was stopped by the ride operators, and abruptly told I couldn’t get on. I was 9 years old the first time, 11 the others. And I just didn’t understand. Luckily, My friends’ parents were able to convince them, in both cases, to let me ride. But not until after many tears had been shed. 

And luckily also, no one really made fun of me throughout the rest of my years of school. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’d know I have a good sense of humor about it. I probably made more fun of myself than anyone else. Sure there was a friend who called me Peg all throughout high school, but I took that as a term of endearment. And well, in high school,  there was also a guy I barely knew, who asked me if I had sex with my fake leg on or off; that was pretty offensive. But there are always people who offend me without meaning to. Often people ask me if/why I’m limping and when I tell them why, they profusely apologize. And then I have to reassure them not to feel bad. But, you know, there’s really nothing to apologize for. I have a leg. I can walk. Why are you sorry? The apologies offend me more than the questions do. 

There have been quite a few times, though, where having a fake leg has worked to my advantage. I can go on the exits of amusement park rides, and not stand in lines, if I choose to do so (though the process has gotten more technical). A few years ago, I finally got Handicapped parking tags, so that’s a convenience. But I always feel like people think I’m “faking” being handicapped if I’m not wearing shorts or a skirt. ( I didn’t really feel I needed them until I had a baby. There’s a lot more stuff to carry. And walking a shorter distance makes it easier). The time it benefitted me most, though,  is when I was a sophomore in college. My professor, one evening before class called me into her office, and profusely apologized for telling a folk tale the previous week that made reference to a “hollow leg”. Apparently, another student thought it was somehow insensitive to me and mentioned it to her. In all honesty, I hadn’t given it a second thought. But she ended up bumping me up to an A in her class, which I sorely needed to get into my major. And I really should’ve gotten a B. 

So I guess the “moral” to all this is, well, a few things. If you are wondering about someone with a disability, don’t be afraid to ask about it; a lot of people don’t mind. Also, don’t make assumptions. Don’t assume you need to apologize. Don’t assume you know what a person can or cannot do. Don’t assume a person who has handicapped tags Isn’t disabled, just because they don’t appear to be. Because you know what they say about assumptions…

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Fallen Limbs?

2 Nov

Fallen Limbs?.

Fallen Limbs?

2 Nov

I knew it would happen someday. I didn’t know when. I didn’t know where. But I knew that one day, my fake leg would fall off. It didn’t happen until I was 21; I’m surprised actually that it took so long, since I’ve had it my whole life. But the way it happened was more unexpected than anything else. I suppose I’d always pictured it maybe coming off mid-kick, or while I was running, or skating, or falling or something. But that’s not how it happened at all. Here’s how it did.

It was a hot, summer night. Myself and some friends-guys, girls, people I knew from college-were all hanging out in the back yard of my friend Greg’s house, who I had a crush on at the time. We were drinking some drinks, smoking some smokes. It was a pretty mellow evening. There were also maybe a handful of people I didn’t know, but the crowd mostly consisted of musician-types, punk-rockers, cute girls, artsy types, with maybe a few Deadheads scattered in. But all-around, a group of pretty open-minded people.

I decided to go in the house because I had to pee, and I wanted to find my friend, who had disappeared somewhere. So I walked up the few steps to the back porch and opened the storm door. I walked in slowly, the storm door closed quickly and forcefully. Next thing I knew, I was in the house, but my fake leg was not. My first thought was, “What the hell just happened?” You know, I was missing a leg all of a sudden. After I recovered, I looked back expecting to see my fake foot stuck in the door, with the leg part on the floor. But no, the entire leg was outside. And of course, I open the door, everything is silent, everyone is staring at me, and this blond hippie chick, who I barely know hands me my leg and says, “Here!” Really? Couldn’t it have at least been an acquaintance?

I go inside, put it back on, and start cracking up laughing. Part of me was mortified, but the other part of me thought it was absolutely hilarious. I go to pee and find my friend; he doesn’t seem to think it was as hilarious as I did, but then again, he missed it. I spent the rest of the night saying, “Oh my God. I can’t believe that just happened! That has totally never happened before. I knew it would happen someday, but never thought it’d happen like this”. I was incredulous. But I was also kind of excited, like I’d been waiting for that day all my life. And it was not anti-climactic! And now that I think of it, no one made fun of me that night. No one laughed at me, until I laughed at myself. It definitely makes for a good story, and despite it all, I ended up having a little fling with my friend Greg.

It’s happened a few times since then, but nothing as exciting. A couple times my foot has gotten caught on the edge of a step, as I pulled my leg up, and it fell of. There’s been times when a screw’s come out and it’s half-fallen off. The only time that’s even come close in comparison, is in my 2nd year of teaching in Baltimore City, when one of my students, a girl who hated me, came walking by me in the hall. We were the only two there, and she started walking close by me, criss-crossing to the bathroom. As she walked by, she stepped on my foot as I was moving my leg up, and it fell and went clunk on the hard hallway floor. Again, I was left standing legless. Of course, at that moment, my principal happened to be walking by and asked if everything was ok. I said yes, he moved on, and I was left with my arch-enemy staring at me in the hallway. I begged her to please, not tell anyone, as I knew I may be the laughing stock of my eighth grade class. I may have threatened her a teensy bit? I’m not sure-the memory’s hazy- but middle school kids can be relentless. Sure enough, she never told. She may not have been a favorite of mine, but she at least earned some of my respect after that day.

My leg hasn’t fallen off recently (well, it almost did) and I don’t think it will. But even if it does, I still don’t think it will be as rewarding as the first time.