I don't know the 70-year-old disabled man you met once at a coffee shop and no, you don't have to speak slowly to me.
These are the types of stereotypes and misconceptions I've heard throughout my life. Truthfully, I usually just roll my eyes and laugh it off, but sometimes some of the things I am asked are so bizarre and downright insulting that I have to wonder, "why did you think it's okay to ask that?"
This is why I've decided to put a list together of the top misconceptions people have about individuals living with a physical disability.
"Did you go to a normal school?" - I got this one a lot growing up. The problem with this question is the use of the word 'normal.' The assumption that all disabled people go to a segregated school could not be further from the truth, especially in the last 30 years or so.
The word "disabled" is not politically correct - I don't have a problem with being called disabled. In fact, I would rather be described as disabled than "differently-abled," which is a term commonly used by people who are attempting to be politically correct. I don't like being called "different" (and neither do other disabled people I know), so please just stick to "disabled". We swear we won't kick you if you do.
People with physical disabilities are unable to live independently from their families - I totally understand that the average person does not know what services are available for disabled people. What I don't understand is why anyone would think that having disabled people live with their families is a feasible long-term plan. At some point, the disabled person's parents will age or will be unable to take care of them, which is why (thankfully) there are different independent living options available.
Disabled people live in institutionalized settings - Like the assumption that disabled people live with their family members, there is also an assumption that all disabled people live in institutions. As upsetting as it is when I hear comments like this, I think this assumption goes back to a lack of knowledge. There are facilities that are more institutionalized-based for people who need them, but many disabled people also live in non-institutionalized settings (i.e. apartments or houses).
All disabled people know each other - This one baffles me, but people make this assumption more often than you think. People have assumed that I know a certain disabled person, despite growing up (or living) in different cities and being born in different decades. When people assume I know all disabled people, I can't help but point out that there are millions of disabled people in the world, which makes it virtually impossible to know everyone.
Having a physical disability means that you must have a cognitive disability too - Physical disabilities and cognitive disabilities DO NOT go hand in hand. They are usually completely unrelated. End of story.
People with physical disabilities constantly need help - Most disabled people I know were raised to be as independent as possible. We may need assistance with personal care (i.e. dressing, preparing meals and transferring in and out of our wheelchair), but that certainly does not mean we need help with EVERYTHING. Physically disabled people are capable of doing things on their own and many of us will ask if we need assistance with something.
Disabled people have an endless amount of free time - Whether it's the wheelchair repair company, doctors, or even friends, some people seem to think that disabled people can speak or meet with them at all hours of the day. Like most people, most disabled people lead active lives and our time should be respected like anyone else's.
"You should be angry because you're in a wheelchair" - It's true that there are some disabled people who have a hard time coping with their disability and are, therefore, angry, but this is not the case for everybody. Personally, I have never been angry about being in a wheelchair, so I don't understand why anyone would assume that I should be.
People with physical disabilities are prone to illness - There have been points in my life (mostly as a child) when I was in and out of the hospital, but this is definitely not the case now (knock on wood). Just because someone has a physical disability does not mean that we are ALWAYS sick.