“In your lifetime, science will make it possible for people in wheelchairs to be able to walk, since that's what they all dream about.”
Wait, whatdid he say? I can't possibly have heard that right. My mind was full of white noise, running on autopilot as I rushed to check if I was muted in the Zoom meeting and frantically covered the camera with the pad of my finger. I started to count slowly backward from 20. The white noise in my head began to dissipate, replaced with the sting of knowing that he really did say that, and he really did hold the incorrect belief that all wheelchair users want to walk, and that. we don't have dreams or goals that aren't in the scope of our disabilities.
That realization sent shockwaves down my entire being. My body emitted a foreign noise, part laugh, part groan and part sob. My fingers shook as I heard my teacher announce that he'd see us all on Thursday. I heard a chorus of chimes as my classmates left Zoom.
As a disability activist since age 6, I've gotten very accustomed to having awkward, uncomfortable, sometimes traumatizing conversations with people in positions of power, whether they were teachers, administrators or even on the board of education. For a lot of my life, I had no choice.
If you use a wheelchair like I do (or have any other type of visible disability), you'll know the pain that is entering a classroom and feeling everyone stare at you ― 30 sets of eyes boring into your back as you sit down and pull out a pen on the first day of school. By November of each year, the stares have died down, and I can pull up to my desk without feeling like everyone is watching me.
Until, of course, your teacher says something ableist and you have to become the disability representative and correct them in front of the class. Then, the eyes swivel away from the presentation on Punnett squares and focus on me, as I have to give the same tired spiel about how that comment was offensive to me as a disabled person and could they please not say that?