Health

A Letter to the Mom Who Yelled at Me on the Bus for My Disability

If you follow me on Twitter, you may remember that last week I posted about being yelled at on the bus. It was pretty crowded, and a mom got on the bus with her kids, and they made an invisibly disabled woman get out of the seat reserved for disabled people so this woman’s son with autism could be at that seat (in his stroller). The woman who had to move made a comment about how it isn’t right that a disabled woman already in the disabled seat had to move, and this mom began yelling her for not being disabled. I spoke up and shared the statistics on how many disabled people there are who look healthy, and the mom began yelling and swearing at both of this. This is a letter to her.

Despite the prevalence of invisible disabilities, there are many people who still believe that you need to "look" disabled in order to be disabled. I encountered someone who believed this on the bus a few weeks ago when a mom of a son with autism made a young woman with an invisible disability get out of the disabled seat so her son could be there.

Dear mom who yelled at me on the bus for saying that I’m disabled and defending another woman who is invisibly disabled,

I’m sure you’re having a hard day. It’s 90 degrees out and you’re traveling on the bus with 3 kids. I don’t doubt that your son with autism needed to stay in his stroller on the bus ride like you said he does – I don’t know enough about autism to made a judgment about that, and unless there is evidence to the contrary, I always believe someone when they say that they’re disabled. But you didn’t need to kick a woman with an invisible disability out of the disability seat, and you didn’t need to yell and swear at her and then me.

What I was trying to explain was 96% of people with disability don’t use an assistive device, like a wheelchair or a cane. You can’t expect everyone who is disabled to “look” disabled. For example, your son doesn’t look disabled, but he still needs to use his stroller. I’ve heard many discussions about whether or not autism is an invisible disability, and you should probably get used to the fact that sometimes your son will not “look disabled.” But what makes your son any more disabled than someone like me or the other woman on the bus with an invisible disability? Why does he deserve a seat more than us, especially given that woman was already in that seat?

Like I talk about in the post linked above, there are many disabled people who don’t use an assistive device, but many people think that someone is only disabled if they “look” disabled. I am one of those people. You didn’t outright accuse me of faking my disability – although you did get pretty close – but that’s probably because I have a compression sock on my knee and you figured that there was something actually wrong with me. But the other woman you yelled at? You flat out told her that she was faking AND that your son needed that spot more than her. How on earth would you know either one way or another? When I’m not wearing visible assistive devices, I look like a completely normal 20-something, but I actually have arthritis in 50+ joints and 6 chronic illnesses. The week before we met, I had chemotherapy for my RA. You would have no idea just by looking at me.

The CDC says that 19% of Americans have a disability, and at least have of them have a serious one. I'm one of those people, but I can look completely healthy. Just because someone looks healthy doesn't mean that they actually are.

And, as that statistic I mentioned shows, I’m nowhere near the only one. And with invisibly and visibly disabled people, a whopping 19+% of Americans have a disability – your son will probably almost never be the only disabled person in the room. You need to get used to the fact that he will not be the only person who needs accommodations, and whether or not you believe that someone needs them won’t change the fact that they will. I know that your son is probably the most important disabled person to you (unless your other children or family members are disabled), but everyone will be the most important disabled person to someone. And again – 19+% of Americans are disabled, and more than half of that number have a severe disability. You need to learn to coexist with other disabled people.

This world is hard for anyone who isn’t white, cis, straight, not poor, abled, and more. You may have already learned this – we had such a short interaction that I don’t know anything about you other than your son has autism and you are the type to verbally attack someone who you think is lying to you to make your life more difficult – and maybe you’re worried about what your son’s life will be like. But you need to recognize your impact on others and, for the millionth time, that your son is the other only disabled person out there. If someone hadn’t given the other woman a seat, she could have been injured or in intense pain, depending on her disability.

Sincerely,

Kate

Like this post? Check out:

Everyday Ableism, Not All Disabilities Are Visible, The 8 Things a Millennial with Arthritis Wants You To Know, The Time I Ended Up Sobbing in a Parking Lot

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  • Kathy E.

    So well said! Yes, that woman was likely having a rough day and she saw an opportunity to “dump” her troubles on 2 easy targets. It is a sad world when people don’t think how they are impacting others with their words and actions. Don’t let this woman ruin your day or even a moment. Pray for her and let your smile and actions lighten someone else’s day to make this world a better place. Bless you!

    • Thank you! That’s what I’m trying to do – she’s definitely going to have a hard time in this world if she constantly acts like she did that day.

  • What a great post. I am so glad that you said something to her.
    I am betting that it *did* hit a nerve with her, or she wouldn’t have gotten so angry with you for pointing out statistics that she was probably told when her son was diagnosed with a disability.
    Aside from the need for a stroller, I don’t know autism would continue to affect his mobility. And the more you and I and everyone else can educate people on the fact that people with mobility problems don’t necessarily use aides, the better!
    And if I had been the woman who was unceremoniously ousted from my seat, I would have appreciated you a lot.
    I rarely take a wheelchair in public because my shoulder hurts to much to push myself and I need my husband to push me, which is rarely possible, plus it isn’t very stable. I tried a walker and a rollater, but my upper body hurts too much to use either. Plus, it was an open invitation to creeps to try to help me into my car (follow me) or talk to me, which made me feel very uncomfortable when I was alone.
    Kate, you are great!

    • I think it’s not about his mobility but probably managing sensory issues like touching things on the bus, etc. He was little, so I understood it, but her reaction was wayyy too much. Also that’s so creepy that there were people who tried to follow you or talk to you.

  • Very well said. Love that you stood up for that other lady. Good on you!