The conversation usually starts like this: "I know a person in a wheelchair who..." and you fill in the blank. It can be anything from "climbed Mt. Everest" to "walked again" to "wears purple every day".
It took me years to figure out that it just didn't matter what followed the words "I know a person in a wheelchair who..."
For all that is said by people when they compare disabled people to one another, much of it is useless. That kind of talk is cheap. I'd like to have a nickel for every time I've heard this done, where people who have no clue what it's like to live with a disability do it.
I remember meeting a guy when I was newly disabled who worked for years to start his own business. He had been a quadriplegic for 15 years. He owned an RV that he used for travel in a job he loved. Everything was accessible. He was successful, happy and friendly. I was still trying to figure out how to plan my life out. When I asked him how long it took him to accomplish all that, he smiled and said "A long time. I figured out what my dreams were. I planned and- well- some of it worked out."
He spread a message that others could be successful, but he never criticized anyone who wasn't where he was at. He never held himself up as better than anyone else. He would never want to be used as "the person in the wheelchair who...", so this is not a story I'm telling for that reason. What mattered was his message of hope. I never forgot that.
Because all our dreams are different, because we all have different plans, the best gift we can all give each other is to offer encouragement, not comparisons.
I know lots of people in wheelchairs who have done lots of things. But he's my go-to guy. That says a lot.
This post was written as part of Blogging Against Disablism Day 2010.