What to do when people appear to judge you before they get to know you because you're in a wheelchair.
((Review of this video))
"Brian, that video you just did about 'see me not my wheelchair' was a real gift to people in wheelchairs but more importantly to anyone wanting to understand how to address their own reactivity. Thank you for your style of vulnerability and for doing more to "put yourself out there" than any professional I know. Others hold up a standard, market an image of an ideal, that often makes others feel badly because they only see the successful side of things and feel as though they've failed. You show yourself the way you are as you stretch for the behavior you want to reach. When you reach it, you have shown us how you got there and we "walked alongside" as you did it. That makes it so much more doable for another person. It's really awesome. Thank you." - Shirley Talbot
Article from this episode:
When I was a child, I felt invisible. To this day its one of my greatest fears.
But I found a solution in a quote from Steve Martin, who when asked what advice he’d give to someone who wants to be successful replied, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”
In whatever field you endeavor, if you want to be noticed you have to be so outstanding that others can’t help BUT notice you. That’s something that drives me to become better each day, especially when it comes to being a better person.
Yesterday I posted a few graphics on Facebook I wanted feedback on. They were designed by my friend Shawna Barnes who is also disabled and a gifted artist. We loved the graphics (which included me in my wheelchair) and I allowed my ego to get too invested before the feedback started coming in.
I read a few comments which “I INTERPRETED” as criticism.
Comments like, “A wheelchair doesn’t convey resilience” and “Do you want people to see you or the wheelchair”?
The subsequent conversation between my ears led to feelings of hurt, sadness, and anger.
I responded to them with what I’d heard and they graciously clarified their statements. They didn’t mean it as I’d interpreted it.
They expressed concern there was insufficient information on the graphics to explain what I do and it could leave a consumer mind prone to stereotyping to miss the message.
An excellent point, but my audience is the folks who live in a wheelchair and know someone who does and gets it all ready.
The point is, I reacted to what I HEARD and not to what was MEANT! But there’s more. It was late at night, I was tired and had a lot of pain in my legs. Why? Because I’d been walking a lot that day instead of using my wheelchair.
When you feel like crap your ability to be resilient can take a hit.
I usually let statements like these roll off my back, immediately clarify and move forward. Now that things were clear and I was feeling calmer I reflected on why I’d become so upset.
Coupled with the fear I was being judged for being in a wheelchair with the pain from a day declining to use my wheelchair led me to a very honest conclusion.
The issue wasn’t how they saw me in a wheelchair, it was how I see myself in a wheelchair. The truth is I’m frightened about what my future will look like because of all the uncertainties. I still resist using the wheelchair in favor of a cane and I pay for it.
This is a problem of my own ego, my own level of acceptance and not about how others see me.
There’s a continuum of acceptance and I’m much further along than I was, with a lot of room to grow.
This acceptance is critical, more than convincing those who stereotype why they MUST see me and not the chair.
I need to be able (easier said than done) to look at that person and see that person. To make sure they don’t feel invisible. You can’t wait for other people to change. But you can create an experience for them so powerful, so good they can’t ignore you.
Maya Angelou said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
If you don’t want them to see the chair, give them an experience that leaves them feeling good about themselves. Where they remember you as a great listener, a kind person who cared for them.
When they see who you are and feel how you see them, the differences can disappear.
Find a way, deep within yourself, to show up so present, compassionate and focused that the experience you give someone else is exceptional. Then they can see you for your humanity.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could model a way of being that becomes the new stereotype for people in wheelchairs? Don’t sell yourself short.
I remember an episode of Different Strokes in which Arnold had a friend in a wheelchair over. At one point he started up the stairs saying, “Come on I want to show you something.” He caught himself and went back to his friend apologetically saying, “I’m sorry, I forgot you were in a wheelchair.”
“Arnold, that's one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me.” That’s the point.