When I was at the Shepherd Center after my last shunt revision, we went on ‟outings” each week.
One day, we had gone out to lunch and as I was in line, I was dreading my turn to order. It was loud in the restaurant and I was sure I would not be heard over the noise with my weak voice. I was practically begging Gabe, an Exercise Physiologist, who helped us workout, to order for me!
I was just imagining how embarrassing it would be to have to keep having to repeat myself… I played it over in my mind and really wanted someone else to speak for me!
But Gabe wouldn’t let me get by without ordering for myself. He wanted me to realize that I could do it on my own. It may not be the way my voice used to be, it may be harder for me to speak up, but I could still do it.
Thanks to some vocal chord paralysis, my voice is still pretty weak. These days, I use a microphone and small speaker to help out.
I still get a little nervous each time it’s my turn to order at a restaurant. But now, I usually order on my own.
Over the past few years, I’ve noticed people get a little uncomfortable, nervous, or are even in a hurry, and ask others what I would like, instead of asking me.
“Does she want something to drink?‟ ‟What is she having?‟ ‟aaand for her?‟ I am used to hearing questions like this when we go out to eat. People usually ask my family or nurses, whoever is sitting next to me.
I have thought about how I would act if the roles were reversed. What if it was me taking the order of someone in a wheelchair? Would I treat them normally?
In the early days after my accident, I didn’t mind someone speaking for me, but now, I’m always glad when someone expects me to speak for myself!
A few weeks ago, it was my turn to order a drink and just as I was about to speak, the waitress cheerfully said, ‟Alright thanks! I will be right back!”
This one actually shocked me… it was like she didn’t even know I was there! I couldn’t help but feel ignored.
I can’t say how I would treat someone in a wheelchair if I were in the waitresses position because I’ve never been there. However, I can speak from the position of someone in a wheelchair and say, we only expect to be treated normally.
This month is Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month.
A month where we raise awareness of what it’s like to live with a spinal cord injury and what is needed. Raising awareness is an important part of developing support for changes in the community. It changes knowledge and attitudes around spinal cord injuries.
My stories are not meant to make anyone feel bad or guilty. It’s simply meant to teach and advocate for a world more accessible for everyone.
It’s stories that help us grow and change. So we can sit together and talk, we can eat, we can drink… At the end of the day, we are all just people. We may look and be a little different, but we are still the same people we were before our accident.
There are so many reasons to raise awareness about the struggles people living with disabilities face. This is only one out of so many but it is important to remember that the more we learn about other people and the lives they lead, the more understanding we become.