Yesterday I was changing trains. As I came down the steps, I walked past a lady who was slowly and painfully descending, bumping her child in a pushchair from one step to the other. Normally, I would of course have offered to carry the pushchair with her. But I couldn’t – I have recently undergone an operation which means “no heavy lifting”. It was embarrassing: I don’t look different, and i don’t feel that different. But there are some things I just can’t do.
It’s a new and unusual situation for me, but of course it is the norm for many – including many of you reading this blog. My brief brush with disability, which will (I hope) last only a few weeks, has given me a new respect for people who live with disability day by day. It’s not only the inability to do certain things, or even the embarrassment of needing help. What I have been very aware of is that nagging feeling that you don’t quite fit. The world is constructed around expectations of a certain level of ability, which differs according to your age, and possibly other less reasonable factors like gender.
If you can’t do the things that you “should” be capable of at first glance, you feel as if you should be apologising for yourself. Certainly when I was going down the stairs at the railway station I felt an irrational desire to apologise to the woman with the pushchair, to explain why I was unable to help her, maybe even to show her my scar!
I’m not sure what can be done about this; I suspect a lot of it is hardwired into us. It would seem a little extreme to inflict temporary disability on everybody in order to understand more of what it’s like, but that might be the only thing that would overcome our unconscious judgements on others.