Monday, July 9, 2012

guest blog 2: “You’re so brave” and Other Assumptions

As I addressed the other day, I have just passed the 2 year mark of me writing as "that girl in the wheelchair."After 262 posts, you may think I have run out of topics- complete poppycock! Truth is that I am lazy and would like a break would like to offer you a different point of perspective. [Tangent: Back in December, after this hilariously brilliant blog, I promised the guest blogger thing would be a possible monthy/bimonthly deal...only my follow through was not so great.] Lucky for me- I have lots of very creative and talented friends who will come to my rescue when I ask for a writing favor.  Coincidentally, this guest blogger is another "girl in a wheelchair"[Tangent: No, its not like I solely know/fraternize with disabled people. We are not an exclusive gang...even though I would have to break your knee caps to initiate you in.]...she's my friend Beth and she writes for In Case of Fire Use Stairs. Read on as she shares what never to say to fellow girls and guys in wheelchairs. [Tangent: This is a topic I have wanted to tackle forever...only she will do it far more eloquently with fewer allusions to 90s R&B and the Real Housewives...and more homemade memes.]

“You’re so brave” and Other Assumptions
by Bethro Tull (aka Beth Hopkins)

Anyone who’s spoken to me for more than about 7 seconds knows I love to socialize. Not to mention I live in a great city for going out: there is always something to do, and always some well-meaning soul making it all the more entertaining for me.

I use a wheelchair, and almost every time I am in a public place, someone says or does something completely ridiculous to me. There are too many examples to recount in a single blog, but there are a few things I hear regularly that always make me do a double take, no matter how many times I hear them.

“You’re so brave. . .”
I get this a lot. But not for climbing Everest, wrestling a bear, or eating fire. Most often, people who approach me telling me how brave I am do so when I am having dinner, listening to music, or having a beer with friends. There is nothing brave about any of that. In that context, calling me brave is not an observation. It’s an assumption: that I don’t get out much, or that it is something singular for a person with a disability to show themselves in a normal social situation. The only brave thing I’m doing in that case is enduring such silliness without slapping people upside the head.

“You’re such an inspiration. . .”
One time, when I was living in Athens, Georgia, I was getting a haircut at an edgy local salon, and was making small talk with my hip, young stylist. When I explained to her that I was living in town and going to grad school for thus-and-such, she looks me in the eye and says in her Serious Voice, “Wow. You are such an inspiration for doing that.” I was baffled. This is a college town, Not-as-Hip-as-I-Thought Lady. Everyone here goes to school. What makes me inspirational? Going in a wheelchair? I just don’t get it.

“It takes a special person. . .”
I started hearing this phrase years ago, when I was working at a summer camp for people with disabilities: “Oh, you’re so brave. That is such an inspiration. It takes a special person to do what you do.” Triple whammy. And while it was a challenge and very rewarding, I can assure you I worked with no super-humans. We were all normal people who just wanted to be a part of a great experience.

As if that weren’t enough, I have been privy to an even more confusing use of this phrase. While out with a friend once, someone made a point of stopping her and telling her “what a great friend” she was to me for being with me, having lunch. Wait a second? It takes a Special Person to be my friend? My date is “such a nice young man” because he’s sitting across from someone with a physical difference? Not cool, guys. My friends are special, and their friendship is a favor to me. But it has everything to do with who they are, not who I am.

I smile and nod when people give those kinds of “compliments”, and my friends and I have a laugh. Because I am not mean. I am not bitter. And I know everyone means well. But here’s the thing: to assume a person is brave/inspirational/special for doing something typical is to make them [or their friends] an “other”, and makes no effort to understand that person as a whole.

There are things I have overcome, and situations I face down when I want to run scared. But none of them involve dinner, drinks, or other social situations. I’ve never been afraid to have a good time.


  1. I can't believe that people say that stuff. Or even think it! Wonderfully written, Beth. I wish that everyone could read this.

  2. - this feels appropriate! ;)

    All kidding aside - love the guest blog!

  3. haha I get those all the time too. People feel the need to say something, but don't know what. "Nice wheels!" would be nice.

  4. Glad to find some more blogs by ladies who use wheelchairs! This post is soooo true. Able-bodied people baffle me sometimes.

    1. so glad you can relate! Feel free to check out my blog from time to time. I don't only talk about disability issues...but I think you'll enjoy. I checked out're so CRAFTY!

  5. Peed my undies a drop or two when I read the Willy Wonka pic. This blog is so hilariously written. The 90's references are killing me! I am a new reader, as of tonight :) Thanks for the best, real laughs I've had in awhile.

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