14 September 2015
This week, Queensland celebrates Disability Action Week — aiming to empower people with disability, raising awareness of disability issues, and improving access and inclusion throughout the wider community. Over two compelling blog posts, Kat Lambert discusses her relationship with her amazing partner, who just so happens to have a physical disability.
I see you staring at him, and judging him. I see you mentally giving him an IQ much lower than yours. I see you writing him off, without even talking to him. I hear you telling your children not to stare, yet clearly staring yourself. He’s not blind, he’s not deaf, everything I see, everything I hear, I know he can hear and see it too. It hurts, but I am not angry. I used to be just like you. I used to accept society’s pre-conceived perceptions as my own, without question. That is, until I met him.
Todd and I met on an internet dating site, which as much as I hate to admit it (because admitting it means I was once unnecessarily judgemental towards those with disabilities), this is the reason why our relationship flourished. When I received Todd’s initial email everything about him seemed perfect. We had so much in common, and not just the usual things everyone has in common. I was super excited and upon meeting my friend for dinner that evening, I expressed my enthusiasm for the potential that this random stranger had in a relationship sense.
Shortly after, I noticed the headrest of his wheelchair in the background of his profile picture. Automatically my thought processes went to “he’s disabled, we’ll never have a relationship, I could never be with someone in a wheelchair, it’s just too much work”. And yet, something about him made me want to keep writing and chatting to him. Something about him made me drawn to him. The more we corresponded, the more I could see how similar we were and how I had perhaps been a little hasty in writing him off upon immediate discovery of his disability.
After a short period corresponding with lengthy emails, and Facebook chats, Todd and I met in person. I was torn. He was hilarious, insightful, smart, caring and everything I’d been looking for. But he was in a wheelchair. It wouldn’t work. I saw the way people stared at us, I was scared that when I told people about him, they’d judge me and think that the only reason I was with him was because I was incapable of finding an able-bodied boyfriend to love me. Automatically I was putting him in a class less than my own, because he had a physically noticeable disability. Automatically, I was writing him off. Automatically, I was judging him, just as you’re doing.
That’s why I am not angry when I see you staring, when I hear your whispers. How can I be angry with you when you don’t understand? How can I be angry with you for having a reaction so similar to mine? How can I be angry with you when society has allowed and projected these beliefs for far too long?
By staring at him you can’t tell that his IQ is probably far higher than yours and mine (do you have two university degrees and are you currently completing your Thesis). You can’t tell that he is patient, he is understanding, that his sense of humour is powerful enough to move a room full of people to laughter, regardless of social stature. You can’t tell that despite the judgement he puts up with from people like you and me, he is well adjusted, mature, responsible, hard-working and amazing. Because all you see is what society wants you to see, and that hurts, because I know there is so much more.