Recognition and Identity

I recognise people; they frequently do not recognise me. This was true even in my able-bodied days. It used to bother me a lot — am I so forgettable? (Answer: no. I am a seriously extroverted loudmouth.)

Now that I use a wheelchair most of the time, I am even more puzzled when this happens. At the middle school or the high school, how many students’ parents use wheelchairs? (Answer: darn few, although there are some — for some reason they all seem to be men, which I am not.) Why don’t teachers and administrators more consistently recognise me? This morning at the bookstore a woman I used to sing with practically climbed over me, and it wasn’t until I said her name that she looked at me and recognised me.

My new theory is that people are trying to be polite. The first thing they see is the wheels, and they immediately look away so as not to be caught staring. This is the opposite of my own practice; if I see wheels or a walker or another sign of disability I look at the person to see if I know them.

Every hypothesis has its antithesis, though. Mark Smith describes the opposite phenomenon in his PowerChair Diaries.


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