As all of you know by now, I identify as disabled. I use forearm crutches as mobility aides. I consider both of these statements as factual. Yet even so, I feel like I reside in an invisible realm that I call the “In-Between,” which is a place that is both perceived and tangible.
Let me explain.
Let’s say I go out to dinner with friends, and I am about to meet somebody new, who happens to be non-disabled. Let’s call this new person, “Toby.” If I am already sitting down at the table when Toby walks into the space, they probably won’t realize that I am disabled because I am already sitting down. The moment I get up and reach for my crutches to walk over to the restroom is the moment that my disability enters into Toby’s consciousness. Now, if I pay extra close attention, I might be able to catch that recognition on Toby’s face. Or, I might not. Does that recognition even matter, or is it simply a sign that I yearn to be perceived a certain way?
I believe the In-Between is a combination of my perception of others as non-disabled persons, and in turn, their perception of me as someone who is disabled. For example, my perception of others comes at that specific point when a non-disabled person recognizes my disability. I openly admit that I concern myself with their reaction. But why? Well, it may be because I don’t want my disability to define me. Or, I don’t want a non-disabled person, like Toby, to quietly make assumptions about me that could be incorrect. It may also have to do with exactly who is seeing me, and my own visibility. In other words, what part of me do I want to be seen?
The tangible aspect of the In-Between could be explained as such: even though I am very dependent on my crutches, I can still navigate stairs relatively easily. This surprises many. Although, I am stuck in the In-Between when I declare that too many stairs could cause fatigue. I can walk, but I am stuck in the In-Between because I can’t walk long distances unassisted, and too much walking gets me very tired. These are my realities, and they are inescapable. That’s the tangible part. My abilities are definite, as are my limits.
As for the perceived part: I feel like I shouldn’t have to worry about what a random non-disabled person, who I’ll probably never see again, thinks about me or my disability. I’ve said before that my disability is a part of who I am and will be forever. If “Toby” can’t handle that, or it makes him uncomfortable, too bad. Besides, it says a whole lot more about his character than it does mine. Now, I’m not saying that all non-disabled people are like Toby. Some might be, but Toby is completely my own creation solely used to explain my point. In other words, I’m not attacking those I encounter who are non-disabled. I’m simply noting the type of people I want to be surrounded by–people who are supportive, encouraging, funny–and those I don’t.