One afternoon over passover, I was sitting with friends in the sun, relaxing after my second chag lunch and working on, what is now, a frummy farmer’s tan, when I asked what the time was. The typical response to this question, I’m quite sure, is a recitation of the time or a simple “I don’t know.” But, of course, the answer I received was, “what? You don’t have a clock built into that thing???” Um, last time I checked, my chair was not a time machine.
Everyone has their own defects, disabilities, and/or imperfections, which, naturally, materializes in a person’s insecurities. For some, it is their weight. For others, it is an unusual facial feature. For me, it is the inability to walk and the corresponding need to use a wheelchair for mobility. As this afternoon progressed, the questions persisted, including the common questions of whether I have turbo speed or snow tires, and it made me wonder. Why is it acceptable for people to interrogate me or make jokes about my chair, but it would never be appropriate to ask someone else about their imperfections?
Imagine asking someone at a meal with a gigantic ass – “Have you ever considered using your ass as a shelf, that way you can bring more items at a time to the table?” or “Do you ever notice that your ass makes you sit higher than the average person at the table?” Or, what if someone asked one of your guests at the table with an abnormally large nose whether they have a heightened sense of smell? Or, what if he asked a woman with a fat stomach if she often is mistaken for being pregnant as a result of her fat gut? These are just a few of the questions I am inclined to ask in response to the unnerving questions I endlessly receive regarding my chair.
Alas, the southerner in me bubbles up, and I politely respond with, “No. Oddly enough, the chair did not come equipped with a fuel-powered jet engine…” while I think or mutter under my breath, “dumbass,” “fat bitch” or the like. (As a side note, southern hospitality is simply the act of feigning interest, caring or niceties. The phrase “ya’ll come back now, ‘ya hear?” can often mean “what weirdos. Please don’t ever come back.”)
So, this afternoon, after what seemed like the millionth question, I responded with, “Why is it that people feel the need to ask me these questions?” The one who found it shocking that my chair did not have a built-in time keeping mechanism responded, “Wouldn’t you prefer for people to ask than to be afraid?” The word “afraid” caught my attention. Are they afraid of me or are they afraid that I may not have snow tires, a built-in clock, turbo speed, turn signals, head lights, an eject button, or a stereo system, or are they afraid to ask these ridiculous questions?
If they are afraid to ask the questions, then, I say, they should be afraid! The fear of embarrassing someone or sounding like an idiot is a well-founded fear, and one should embrace it. If they are afraid that my chair doesn’t come with options that could be featured in an episode of the Jetsons, then, truly, I’m okay with that…simmer down. However, I think, what she meant to say was that such inquisitive people are “afraid” of me. They aren’t afraid of me because I might kick their ass, because, well, frankly, I can’t kick. And, they aren’t afraid of me because I am mean, hostile or intimidating (or at least I hope not). Rather, they are afraid of their own ignorance toward people with disabilities and are, thus, uncomfortable. Unfortunately for me, their discomfort is manifested by jokes and questions to break the ice and to make conversation, which only draw attention to my disability – my insecurity.
While it is admirable to be afraid of ignorance rather than to accept it, the fear of ignorance can only be remedied by education. Get to know someone with a disability. Learn more than the maximum speed of their chair. Learn that they are independent, intelligent, funny or just plain superficial and bitchy… that we, too, are just humans with imperfections – only ours are visible to the world. In the meantime, in the spirit of education and in hopes of answering all your ridiculous questions, here are the answers:
• It goes 4 miles per hour. Or, as my mom once answered, “Not fast enough to get away from people like you, who ask that question.”
• No, it does not have snow tires, chains or any kind of snowmobile-type functions.
• No, it does not have an eject button. However, I often wish it had one of those pop-up boxing gloves to punch people like you in the face.
• No, you may not take a ride. I am not public transportation, and frankly, your heavy ass will crush me.
• No, there is not an option for seat warmers, because it would, too quickly, drain the battery.
• No, I do not want to soop it up with rims, a subwoofer, hydraulics, or any kind of bling. I also don’t have gold teeth.
• No, it does not have turn signals, head lights, or anything resembling a car. It’s a wheelchair, not an Escalade.
• No, it does not climb stairs. It is not the animal or a tank.
• Yes, I can have children (which answers the related, commonly asked question – can you have sex?)
• No, I do not have a care-taker. So, stop looking around for an accompanying Philippino or Indian.
• No, I cannot walk… at all. Turns out, I am not just lazy.
• No, I don’t feel lucky that I don’t have to walk everywhere, that I was exempt from PE or that I don’t have to go to the gym. You should feel retarded for asking that though .
• “The blind leading the blind” is a saying for a reason. Stop trying to set me up with men with disabilities. It doesn’t work.
• No, I don’t go off-roading. I am not a 12-year-old boy.
• No, I’m not dying. I’m just pale! (my mom made me start wearing blush at the age of 11 in hopes of avoiding that question.)
• No, Your Honor, I cannot stand up when addressing the Court.
• No, I am not also mentally retarded. (The public school system made me submit to an IQ test every year due to my physical disability. The best was when they pulled me out of my calculus class to ask me simple addition questions.)
• My name is Ariella, not “the chair.”
• No, I’m not going to run you over. Unless it’s an act of self-defense, typically taken upon my little sister.