By TRISHA MALPHRUS
I have used a wheelchair part time since I was 17 years old. My disability (Multiple Sclerosis or MS) causes extreme fatigue and muscle weakness which does affect me more some days than others. I do walk and can go short distances, which is one of many causes of bigotry.
I commute frequently into Boston on both the commuter rail and the MBTA buses. Both bring their own challenges and people I run into daily who comment or stare. My favorite comments come on days when the weather is bad. I hear comments like “Why do you come out on days like today?” or “people like you should use the RIDE on these days.” People also comment when I am commuting that I should “have a PCP with me, that I am courageous,” or that “God will doubly bless for me for not sitting at home feeling sorry for myself.”
When I ride the bus, people do not want to move for the chair. They feel they should be able to sit in the two designated handicap spots. On the bus the comment is: “I am going to be late for work while the bus driver fastens you in.”
Daily I hear comments of “I wish I had a chair like yours,” “I understand what you are going through since I used a chair in high school when I sprained my ankle,” and people who jump out of the way and tell me to “slow down, you are out of control.” People feel the need to touch me, speak louder and slower. I also get pity looks and conversations.
On a regular basis, store clerks, wait staff and others feel that apparently, I cannot answer for myself and speak to whomever is with me. I was recently in a restaurant that had a sign on the door stating, “If you are in a wheelchair and need access to the restaurant, come inside and a staff person will direct you to the ramp.” How is a person in a chair supposed to get into the non-handicap entrance to get help? I asked the manager this, when inside. His response was “I assume that everyone in your situation would be with someone.”
To me, these are examples, purposeful or not, of bigotry. What I would like everyone who reads this to understand is the following: People with disabilities, physical or mental, are people, just like you. Just because we have our own limits, does not mean we should be treated any differently. Speak to me like you would your own friends and family. Do not feel sorry for me or expect anything different from me than anyone else.
Trisha Malphrus is the chairperson of the Swampscott Commission on Disability.