The Normal Girl in a Not-So-Normal Chair

The Normal Girl in a Not-So-Normal Chair

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Be The Best You Can Be

The Normal Girl in a Not-So-Normal Chair

The hardest struggle of all is to be something different from what the average man is.

~Charles M. Schwab

As a twelve-and-a-half-year-old American girl, I like doing girly things. But many people aren’t aware of that because they only see a twelve-and-a-half-year-old disabled girl who sits in a wheelchair. When I was in second grade, I was a speaker at an after-school program for children my age. In the beginning, the children were curious about my tubing and alarms. By the end of the program, when it was time for questions, they didn’t know what to say to me. I guess they felt embarrassed. Instead of trying to talk to me, they ended up walking away and ignoring me. Unfortunately, this is a typical occurrence. Often, people would rather act like I am not there.

I use a wheelchair that has tubing to control my breathing and alarms to signal for assistance. To explain why I use this chair, with all of these devices, I need to explain my diagnosis. Before I was born, I had a stroke that affected my brain stem. It’s as if my brain is a computer, and the circuit board shorted out. My muscles don’t always do what I want them to, and most definitely not in a timely manner. I can breathe but not enough to stay alive, so I use a ventilator. I can stand, but I cannot control my muscles so I would wobble around or fall over. With a ventilator I am unable to use my voice to speak, so instead I blink yes or no with my eyes. To say yes, I blink twice, and once to say no. My mom also helps me by holding my hand while I type, which takes a very long time. My alarms notify my moms that my devices are having a problem. There are different sounds for different alarms, and sometimes they can be noisy. Now you understand what it is like to be in my chair.

As a preteen girl, I enjoy putting on make-up, dressing trendy, reading about anything I can, and being outside in nature. I need a ventilator to breathe and a wheelchair to move, but I have the same interests as any other preteen girl. People seem to forget this when they see me.

Often, when I go into a store with my family, people will stare and then avert their eyes. They don’t think that I see them, but they are wrong. I am aware of a lot more than they think. People are afraid to be out of their comfort zone. They feel threatened by someone like me because they don’t know what to say or do. What they don’t realize is that not saying anything at all is more hurtful than anything they could have said. I want people to know that handicapped people have feelings too. If you walked into a place and everyone walked away from you, would it hurt your feelings? Well, that is how it feels for me.

By saying a simple “Hello” or asking my name, a stranger can brighten my day. This simple gesture makes me feel welcomed. I want people to know that being a preteen is hard enough, but sad stares from strangers makes it even harder. Don’t feel sorry for me — my life is great! The next time you see a person in a wheelchair remember that a simple hello can go a long way. After all, a wheelchair doesn’t make a person — what’s in the chair is what’s important.

~Dani P. d’Spirit

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