Treat people who have disabilities with respect

Published: Thursday, June 28, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

Last summer, it started hurting me to walk. After being shuffled from general practitioner to podiatrist to orthopedic surgeon, I learned that I had to have foot surgery. Because of how the doctors were going to cut into my foot, I wouldn’t be allowed to put weight on my foot for three weeks. Crutches were not recommended, and we decided on a knee scooter.

At first, knee scooters might look fun, like a really convenient scooter-bicycle combination. They’re easy to ride over smooth, dry, flat surfaces and can actually go remarkably fast.

But once the rider gets into a mud puddle or near a flight of stairs, the difficulty starts. Like wheelchairs and crutches, the scooter is not a pair of human legs and cannot negotiate obstacles like we’re accustomed to.

This led to me having to search out ramps and elevators, avoid upstairs places, hobble on one foot and literally crawl at points. My school had small staircases into different wings, slow elevators and desks that were not scooter-friendly. My house has small step-downs in between rooms, banning me from most places my family likes to be. I would have to crawl up the stairs. I also had to crawl to the bathroom and wash my hands in the bathtub because I couldn’t reach the sink.

Add up the scooter difficulties with the actual surgical wounds, and it was not a great time.

However, the physical scooter difficulties were not my worst issue. The scooter helped me, and I simply had to learn and adapt to its ways. The hard part was other people’s responses to my scooter and me.

If you saw someone with a wheelchair, would you ask, “How do I get me one of those things?” or my personal favorite, “Can I have a ride?” Those questions are not only stupid, but incredibly rude. Think about it. If you are gallivanting about on my scooter, where am I? That’s right, crawling along the road like a dying turtle.

At school, my name was “scooter girl” and even some administrators took to calling me that. I will never forget them, or the feeling of hurt I had those nights while crawling up the stairs. Of course, some people were nice and thoughtful, offering to help with my books or whatnot. Being curious is different than being obnoxious. But the general consensus for those three weeks was “Look! Someone who’s different. Point and laugh.”  

Just because a disability or handicap is one that you haven’t seen before does not give you the right to ogle. If a person has a different type of transportation device, like I had, or a type of deformity that you’ve never seen before, keep moving. We’re taught that people come in all shapes and sizes, and disabilities come in all forms, too.

I was only off my feet for three weeks, and it gave me a whole new perception of the world for differently-abled people. They have enough going on without overly-inquisitive little kids and their prying parents. Ask if you can help if you feel it’s needed, and don’t stare, point, laugh or ask rude questions. Treat people with disabilities how you treat everyone else – with respect.

• Courtney Phelan is a junior at Geneva High School. She is an outgoing and energetic young writer who likes to swim, read and participate in general teenage activities. She can be contacted at editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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