When I was a child, I was able-bodied. It wasn’t until about 5 years ago that my health started quickly declining. I have been diagnosed with mitochondrial myopathy, Crohn’s disease, gastrointestinal dysmotility, arthritis, dysautonomia, PCOS, AMPS/CRPS, endometriosis, asthma, Raynauds syndrome, chronic migraines, cyclic vomiting, asthma, and I still have so many undiagnosed and unexplained symptoms. I couldn’t stand for more than a couple minutes or walk more than 200 feet without collapsing to the ground. I needed to be close to a bathroom. I couldn’t function unless I was able to lay down or keep my feet up periodically or I would nearly faint. I had to start asking for accommodations because I couldn’t physically do everything I use to be able to.
Before I needed to use a wheelchair my illness was completely invisible to others. When I asked for help people would question me or roll their eyes at me instead of just listening and being understanding. I always felt bad about asking for the accommodations I needed. I would apologize over and over for asking for help. If you think about it, I was really just giving people an excuse for their lack of understanding that disabled people exist and want the same opportunities as able-bodied people.
For example, this is a scenario that happens quite frequently. I am shopping in a store and there are stacks of boxes blocking the isle with enough space for someone to walk through but not nearly enough space for a wheelchair to get through. I always get so embarrassed when I have to ask a worker to move the heavy boxes so I can get through. I make myself small and I say quietly, “I’m so sorry but could you maybe help move these boxes a little so I can get through? I’m so sorry. The wheels are a little too wide. Thank you so much. I’m sorry. Thank you again.” Then I apologize to the people behind me who had to wait those couple extra seconds to walk through.
I make myself seem like the problem when really the boxes blocking the way are the problem. You know how after an argument, you think through all of the things you should’ve said? Well that’s exactly what I do after a situation like this happens. I think to myself, I should’ve sat up tall and said “Excuse me, could you please move these boxes so I can get through? Thank you.” and kept on going. By apologizing many times and thanking them over and over, I am letting the worker believe that they did this great generous deed for me when they should’ve known in the first place to not only leave enough space for able-bodied people to walk through but for disabled mobility device users to get through as well.
I have to learn how to stop apologizing for things that absolutely do not need to be apologized for. I shouldn’t have to apologize for being disabled. I shouldn’t have to apologize for not being able to walk up stairs or fit through tight spaces with my wheelchair. I should not have to apologize for things that are completely out of my control. To be honest, I am still struggling to feel confident in my body and in my wheelchair. But every time I apologize for needing help is only making it harder for me to feel confident about myself.
I am a disabled woman and I deserve every opportunity that an able-bodied person would have. So my goal is to learn how to confidently ask for accommodations. I am going to start with sitting up tall and not making myself smaller when asking for help. Then I will ask for what I need without apologizing.
I think that is a huge step because society teaches disabled people that they make things more difficult which is completely false. For instance when I am in a facility with stairs but no ramp, elevator, or any other form of access, in the back of my mind I think “I must not be welcome here.” No person should ever feel like that.
Finally, I will politely thank them and move on, the same way any able-bodied person would thank someone for holding a door open for them. I think these are relatively simple steps to learn how to confidently ask for accommodations.
Written by Mara Volle
February 27th, 2020