My daughter and I are shopping. As we move to pay, people are staring at us. Is it because we both ride in wheelchairs? Or because I am old enough to be her grandmother? Or because she is Asian and I am white? Or because we are shopping by ourselves? It’s been going on for so long that I’ve stopped wondering exactly what they are staring at. And I just enjoy the reactions.
I like to think that we are confusing their stereotypes – even when they cannot decide which stereotype is the most important – disability? Race? Age? Sometimes just being ourselves is the most radical act of public education that occurs.
When I was 42 years old, a friend asked me if I would like to adopt a disabled girl from Japan. I immediately said, “Yes” and 4 months later I was holding my daughter in my arms.
Many nondisabled people (and a few disabled people) were surprised that I would consciously choose to adopt a child with a physical disability since I had a physical disability myself. But to me it was an easy and joyous choice.
I had grown up disabled in a nondisabled family. I didn’t know people who looked like me or moved like me. I didn’t have adult role models or someone I could ask about disability questions (other than the nondisabled doctors). My family was loving and supportive. Yet I yearned for someone to help me figure out important information about myself as a disabled woman.
My daughter is almost 11 years old now (making me almost 53 years old). Some days I shudder to think about it – that we are both going through major changes for women – puberty for her, menopause for me. But I always remind myself that I like adventures and raising a teenager will ensure that my life won’t be boring.
Throughout the years we’ve talked about how to handle many different kinds of situations: questions from strangers; navigating a wheelchair in difficult situations; shopping on your own. We have very different styles of handling these situations. My tendency is to be very independent. My daughter is very comfortable having help. We talk about the advantages and disadvantages of each approach.
The people staring at us in the store cannot imagine how ordinary our life is. Her days are school, homework, friends, watching musical theater videos and playing computer games. She loves science, reading, theater, creating imaginary worlds with her friends. My days are parenting, working in disability studies, and dating. I love reading, traveling, cooking with friends. We’re just a couple of ordinary women.