This weekend- I was deemed a healthy cripple. Yesterday we were at the Flyleaf Poetry Reading and Crafts Showcase sponsored by the NC Poetry Society. For most of the event, I had our car parked across the street to allow more parking for customers. However, near the end, I moved the car back, and parking the accessible parking space to load Barton as well as all our stuff. A man was sitting in his parked car next to be, also in an accessible parking space. As I got out, he called out to me, “Well you look like a healthy cripple.”
You look like a healthy cripple. Fascinating. So I went to get Barton, and we ended up having a discussion out by the car about packing up and what we wanted to do for lunch, and I actually left Barton in the car while I packed the car up. I am sure Barton’s smile and bright eyes disturbed the man, so he actually ended up moving to another spot in the lot.
Now I know that accessible parking places in and of itself is a red hot topic which brings out the passion in most advocates, mainly because it’s taken so long to get and enforce parking for those with disabilities.
But let’s look at this man’s comment deeper, and there are two thoughts which I want to pull out a bit.
The first- you look like a healthy cripple. This was a statement about how I looked, on the outside. Should I have explained to him that it was just my husband who has a disability? Should I mention to him that I have chronic back pain? Or that I have low tone hearing loss which can cause balance issues or even worse that it could actually be MS but I refuse to be tested because my mother died from a reaction to pain medication for MS? I looked fine, but many types of disabilities don’t have anything to do with outward appearance at all. Many experiences don’t have outward exposure either, but can be just as debilitating. Let’s give each other a break once in a while. There are times when we need to push ourselves further than we ever could think we could go, and there are times when we need to nurture and take care of ourselves, give ourselves a perk every once in a while.
The second and possibly more potent- you look like a healthy cripple. The inference that people with disabilities are not supposed to look healthy. They are supposed to be unhealthy. It was one of the reasons why I wanted to bring Barton out and have a conversation with him where this man could overhear. Barton, whose muscles don’t work the way he would like them to, is extremely healthy. He doesn’t have cooties. If you could slow down and take the time, you would realize that Barton knows more than you or I. That he’s incredibly funny, and it’s not just his contagious smile. It’s everything underneath.
A long time ago, my martial arts sensei told me a story about Barton. Barton was in a sweat lodge, and there were two boys sitting next to him complaining. Barton bent over, and said, “You can lean on me.”
Breaking through the illusion that you have to be unhealthy to have a disability or be defined by the disability will take a long time to shift. As a society, we are just now coming around to the fact that those with disabilities have just as much, or more, to offer than those without.
How do we begin to shift the paradigm? To let go about our assumptions of how a person with a disability should be, should look or should behave.
At one time or another, we will all be healthy cripples.