Thanks to generous friends, I recently went on my first vacation in a wheelchair. London was an easy choice: I had a beautiful wedding to attend in one of the most accessible cities in the world. The taxicabs are all wheelchair-ready (shame on you, New York!) and major landmarks have well-developed accessibility options. Perhaps because of the Paralympics last year, the city takes accessibility seriously. I had a wonderful trip.
While traveling, I was struck by the number of strangers (on both sides of the Atlantic) who asked me whether my assistant is my mother. Judging by looks alone, that assumption makes sense. What does not, is why so many flight attendants, hotel clerks, baristas, and fellow travelers literally opened conversations with that question.
SCI is part of my experience and relationship to the world; getting to know its effects is part of getting to know me. In that vein, I don’t mind being asked whether I’m related to my assistant. But satisfying one’s curiosity about me before performing a job or saying a greeting is jarring and alienating.
So here’s a shout out to all the people who have bothered to say hello before saying “what’s wrong with you?” (and its iterations) to anyone with a visible disability. And many thanks those who have cheered me on so that I don’t get hung up on frustrations like this one. Here’s to many exciting travels for us all!