by Camile Araujo
As I read fellow contributor Jenny Addis’ most recent article ‘It’s Not Polite to Stare,’ I couldn’t agree more with what she expressed. Unfortunately, even in the 21st century and in a first -world civilization, we still encounter people who haven’t yet learned about proper etiquette when dealing with people who are slightly different than they may appear on the outside. I still consider myself a “rookie” wheelchair user, and although I live my life pretty much the way I did before, I notice the stares. In the beginning, I felt my own insecurities dictating the reason for the stares. Now, however, I agree with Cheryl Price’s comment; I pretend I’m a celebrity and take it all in. I make up my own reasons why they must be staring. As a result, I’m no longer phased by what used to feel like an invasion.
One of the points in Jenny’s column that I loved is how we can use the staring to EDUCATE those who are less informed--children, especially. In 2008, I was still in rehab and another para at the rehab was telling me a story of how she was waiting for the metro-rail to go home, and she heard a mother tell her daughter, “If you don’t behave, I will tell the wheelchair lady to take you.” I was horrified to hear that a mother would paint a “boogie-man” analogy about wheelchair users. Luckily, my friend, who is very quick-witted, turned around and said to the little girl, “Honey, I will not take you. I am not mean, your mommy is wrong to make you think that just because I use a wheelchair, I am a bad person.” The little girl ran up to her to give her a hug, however the mother ran after her child and yanked her away as she was a few inches from embracing my friend. As I heard this story, I got my first idea to write children’s books depicting disability (to be available soon). I felt it was my duty to do so and to help parents educate their children on the subject. Disability is not taboo, in fact it is part of many people’s lives.
My own daughter just turned one. As she grows older, I know she will see pictures of me standing, videos of me walking and ask me many questions, as my nephew and little cousin have when they reached the age of the “why’s.” Of course, I know I am different from the world they are accustomed to, and I like being different. I like answering their questions and keeping them interested. A 4-year-old boy recently asked me, “Why are you in a wheelchair?” I replied, “I have special powers, and I have to use the wheelchair because it helps me keep these special powers.” The little boy’s eyes widened in utter awe. As I saw his interest peak, I removed the batteries from my e-motion wheels and told him, “You see these wheels? They are magical. When I put these batteries in, I can roll faster than you can run.” I clicked my wheels into the “fast” mode and, sure enough, beat him in a race. He ran to his dad saying, “Camile has super powers! Daddy, you are not as fast as she is!”
As children grow older, I know the super powers stories will no longer work, but I love kids’ ingenuity, creative imagination and the willingness to accept all things the way they are. It is really my wish that society is more aware of who we are as people rather than what type of disabilities we have. In my opinion, everyone has his or her own “wheelchair,” it just happens that ours are visible to the naked eye. As a relatively new wheelchair user and brand-new mom, I am on a quest to expand knowledge about how disabled women are just as capable as able-bodied ones in all areas. Sure, we may need some help once in a while, but who in the world doesn’t need a little push now and then? So please, before staring, educate yourselves.
Visit Camile's website and blog at www.camilearaujo.com or www.facebook.com/camilearaujo.thevoicewithin. You may also email Camile at email@example.com.