I’m blonde. I’m from Yorkshire. I’m disabled. By any stereotype I should be so lacking in intelligence as to effectually be brain-dead. However, considering that I am a in the final year of my degree, I would hope that the opposite is the case; if not, I have wasted far too much money to bear thinking about. Despite the evidence that I am, in fact, an intelligent life form, many people see that I am sat down on some wheels, and assume that this somehow drains the knowledge from my brain. I don’t know how or why this assumption has come to be, but it has, and it’s as annoying as a mosquito with a vuvuzela.
Recently, I ended up in hospital with severe pains around my rib cage and abdomen, which turned out to be gall stones rattling around inside me like some kind of maraca. I needed emergency surgery as the case was acute, but when I met with the surgeons before my operation, my mind was not on the procedure. I wasn’t even sat in my wheelchair and they were talking to me like I was two, and as someone studying nutrition, I am perfectly aware of the implications and treatment for gall stones. I took great delight in halting their explanation of what the surgery entailed for my entrails, and described it to them using the full medical term “laparoscopic cholestectomy”. They looked moderately surprised but to their credit took it within their stride and laughed; it was only then that I realised I probably shouldn’t mock someone about to perform surgery on me.
The surgery was performed successfully, or so they thought, until the pains returned a few days after having the operation. Several scans later, they found one last little blighter wedged in the bile duct, and an endoscopy was performed to remove it. My stay in hospital was longer this time, allowing me to develop a system for getting doctors to treat me as an equal; I read “intelligent” books including “On the Origin of the Species” by Charles Darwin, and “The Double Helix” by Dr J. Watson, and also kept a puzzle book by the side of the uncomfortable bed. The change in the doctor’s attitudes towards me was remarkable, but as soon as I got back into my wheelchair, the original treatment resumed. Had I had the energy at the time, I would have taken great delight in sitting in my wheelchair all day while reading one of those books just to confuse them.
I should mention that it isn’t just doctors who treat me like this, but this is something I face most days from total strangers. For example, when I was wearing my baggy university hoodie one day, the woman behind me in a queue at the coffee shop asked me if it were my boyfriends’. I remarked that for all she knew I could have been a lesbian, and not to make such shallow assumptions about people. The man behind her in the queue found my comment particularly amusing, which embarrassed the woman even further.
Whenever I encounter such treatment, after I have dealt with the situation, I often wonder if Professor Stephen Hawking ever has to deal with this. If anyone could disprove the association between disability and stupidity then it’s him, yet I still face this issue regularly, and I know that the situation is similar for other disabled people. It’s utter madness.