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.
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.
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.
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