For the first two decades of my life, I never experienced discrimination. I knew what discrimination was, of course, but I knew it from a distance. Like a cousin once removed.
All that changed after I broke my neck and became paralyzed when I was twenty-one. Being disabled, I was treated entirely differently then before I became disabled, not only by strangers but even some people I knew. People spoke to me as if I were deaf, would not look me in the eye or stared at me with a look of either disgust, pity or “stay away, you’re contagious.”
Complete strangers asked me the rudest, most personal questions that were absolutely none of their business. People treated me as if I had the IQ of a slug and at times, like the elephant in the room that nobody talks about or talks to. Discrimination at its finest.
This struck me as so odd because it took about ten seconds to become disabled…That’s how long it takes to become paralyzed once your neck cracks and your spinal cord is injured… Had I really changed so much in that amount of time?
Twenty years later, none of this has changed. Discrimination still meets and greets me almost every day. The difference is, I no longer care. Being treated with discrimination no longer brings me to tears, leaving me wondering what I had done wrong and how I could change it.
If people were going to show discrimination towards me because I had a disability, there was nothing I could do to change the way they thought. I could, however, control my perception of how I see myself instead of turning that power over to ignorant individuals.
I was going to come in contact with people who discriminate towards me for the rest of my life because my injury is permanent. Like race, ethnic background and sexuality… three heavy hitters in the discrimination department…I can’t change my disability anymore than I can change the color of my skin.
Realizing my perception needed changing did not happen overnight. It was a process I was almost unaware of, until at one point in time I couldn’t remember the last time experiencing discrimination hurt my feelings. To be clear, not the last time I experienced discrimination, but the last time it cut like a knife.
As most personal growth goes, it’s much easier said than done. I’ve had twenty years of practice dealing with discrimination; other people have experienced it their entire lives. And while practice does not make perfect, it can come pretty damn close. Don’t give your personal power away to people who judge a book by its cover instead of its contents.