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Passing as able-bodied: the taboo

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A photo of a teenage woman reflecting on the struggle of passing as able-bodied while growing up with cerebral palsy.
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Passing as able-bodied: the taboo

Cerebral palsy is hard, like really hard. It is such an umbrella term, filled with a wide range of abilities and obstacles. Someone with cerebral palsy may need to use a wheelchair to get around; some will use a cane or walker, and some do not use a mobility aid.

I fall into the last category, with a limp and a very scarred leg representing all the surgeries I had to go through to get me to this point. And you might think, hey, that's awesome, everything worked out, and you are good to go. But the problem is because I can pass as able-bodied person with an injury, people get cocky.

In fourth grade, my gym teacher lied for me after the push-up test when a student asked me how many I did. He said ten, but I had done absolutely zero.

In fifth grade, going in a line to the cafeteria, the student behind me, who I can still picture to this day, shouts out that I am going too slow. I didn't know what to do; I was trying my best to keep up, so I just shouted out "I HAVE A FOOT PROBLEM" as loud as possible.

In seventh grade, I got in trouble with the school for being absent most of the time for treatment. Even though every time I was missing, it was to go to physical therapy ordered by my orthopaedic surgeon. The school simply didn't understand that I needed to do this to be able to walk from class to class.




At age eighteen, I interview for my very first job at Chipotle. Walking into the interview, my interviewer says that they like my 'gangster walk' in reference to my limp. Passing as able-bodied I still worked there; I needed the money.

Between the ages of nineteen and twenty-two, I had four orthopaedic surgeries to maintain my walking ability. I spent most of those years in a wheelchair or crutches, and everywhere I went, strangers, waiters at restaurants, you name it, people would ask me what sports injury I had. Passing as able-bodied I just lied and said field hockey.

I have never been close to being able to play field hockey in my life. Still, it was better than making strangers feel awkward about how my surgeries were just the price I paid to be able to walk. By the end of the last surgery, I could not keep up with all my lies and who I told them to.

There are downsides to passing as able-bodied. People believe that it is okay to ask questions, that it is okay to make a joke, that I just hurt my leg in a sport. The truth is, even when I feel great, I will always look injured to most. This doesn't happen to my friends in wheelchairs; they know it is a taboo topic to point out. They know that it is a thing that is polite to not bring attention to. While I am eternally grateful for my ability to walk, I wish my own disability was taboo for others to bring up as well.

 

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Article by
Moriah Kitaeff

Moriah Kitaeff is a person just doing her best to survive in this world that loves Pokemon and animals and making people with internalized ableism very uncomfortable.

Caption:

There are downsides to passing as able-bodied. People believe that it is okay to ask questions, that it is okay to make a joke, that I just hurt my leg in a sport. The truth is, even when I feel great, I will always look injured to most.

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