I have two friends who are always complaining. One is in a wheelchair and the other is totally blind. Their complaint is not that they are handicapped but that, with the very best intentions in the world, people treat them as children.
Of course I knew this to be true but I thought that they exaggerated a bit. No longer after my recent experience I am surprised that they are so tolerant of us.
I have recently had an operation on my vocal chords which meant that I could not speak or talk at all for the first week and since then can only communicate in whispers. While I was completely silenced people who know me well, people who know that I am both intelligent and able to express my ideas, started using movements of the heads, arms and hands as well as speaking in single words or baby sentences. And why? Because I could not talk.
When I answered their questions by writing “I’m feeling fine.” They looked surprised and pleased. When I wrote, “No, it’s not too sore,” they laughed and clapped their hands with delight at my intelligence. They even patted me on the head and told me I was a good girl. If there was more than one person in the room they read out my comment, then everyone repeated it to everyone else and, nodding and approving, they passed round my notebook to show one another how well I could write. And there I was dumb in the bed and angry.
Now that I can whisper everyone whispers back. They tiptoe into my flat. People think that I must have something wrong with my hearing and strangers have asked me if I ever thought of getting a hearing aid! One man telephoned me in a whisper to ask me if I could hear!
I know that everyone tries to be kind, helpful and sympathetic to me and yet without knowing they have treated me either like a child or with the attention afforded to those who do not know they are dying of a disease that cannot be cured. My handicap is minor and temporary so it is easy for me to laugh at the unintentional and little stupidities. However, if I did have a serious handicap which was permanent I fear that I would be tempted to do something evil to those who forgot that, in spite of my wheelchair or white cane, I was still intelligent, sane, adult.