I have a friend who is paralyzed from the waist down. He is in a wheelchair. One day he was waiting for the bus and a lady standing next to him was being abusive to a child standing next to her. He told her that she should be nicer to her child. She started yelling at him calling him a little boy, saying what do you know about children you can't have any children. Well I'm sure you can imagine what happened next. My friend got angry and started screaming back at the woman.
I'm not saying that what my friend did in response to the woman was right, but what she did was very wrong. How does she know that my friend had no children or couldn't have children. He is a grown man, not a child so why did she call him a little boy?
Several years ago I was in a cab with a friend of mine. She was helping me with my groceries. The cab driver proceeded to ask me why I am such a burden to my friend. He told me I should just stay home and have my groceries delivered to me. He said disabled people are a waste of space and didn't deserve to live on this planet because we are such a burden on society. He went on to say that I was wasting government money and his hard earned money was being wasted on freeloaders like me.
It was devastating to me.
I have been very active throughout my life. There were times when I needed help from others, but for the most part I am very independent, and try to do things for myself as much as possible. Until I got married I lived alone, cooked for myself, cleaned my own house, did my own groceries most of the time, I taught music lessons, I have taken many classes after college to keep up with my education, I worked as a crisis counsellor for suicide prevention, I have callings at church. My point is I have never just sat around and let others do everything for me. I contribute to the world around me. Yet this person who knew nothing about me still continued as he drove my friend home to berate me and all disabled people everywhere.
Now that I am in a wheelchair permanently, I get strangers coming up to me on the street, at bus stops in grocery stores talking to me like I don't have a brain in my head. They say things like "Hiiiiiii little girrrrlll are you okaaaaaay? Oh you poor thing, do your legs hurt? I feel so sorry for you, it must be depressing being that way all the time. Do you need some help, here let me do that for you."
These kinds of responses used to bother me a lot. I couldn't understand why people saw me as helpless, useless, stupid, and childish, and I would get very depressed. I felt like the world was confirming every bad thing that was ever said to me by abusive people in my life.
After having experience with many disabled people, both physically and mentally, throughout my lifetime most of them, with the exception of a few, are hard working, independent, intelligent people. Not one of them would want to be spoken to or treated in this manner. I thought that in our world today, where discrimination is frowned upon, that people would understand that talking down to a disabled person or treating them like they are a waste of space would make them shudder.
I have been blessed, however, to be around people who treat me with respect, who look at me as an intelligent human being. They don't see my wheelchair or illnesses as a part of my identity, but rather, look at me as they do any other person. My life is now filled with people who are compassionate, kind and trustworthy without being condescending.
As I have come to know the Savior better over the last 20 years as a member of His church, I have come to realize that He is the perfect example of love, compassion, kindness, but is also clear and down to earth, never skirting around the truth. He has become my best Friend, my Teacher and my Exemplar. He has taught me to recognize who is and is not going to treat me like a good human being, as well as to be less judgemental of those who simply don't understand. I have found increased ability to find peace and put off feelings of anger towards those who have hurt me, realizing more and more that everyone is in a different place in life with unique perspective.
He is transforming me into the most real, true version of myself I can be, because that is how He is as well.