Monday, April 21, 2008

Disability Secrets, Revealed

What I didn't know about before using the scooter is that there is often a covert, secret acknowledgement that often happens among wheels users--eye contact, an almost imperceptible smile and nod that happens as you know you share the same challenges in getting around a particular space with unaware people. And I've shared it with non-wheels people, both when I've been walking and when I roll along. I couldn't figure out why the teenagers in front of me in the Target line were so unphased by me and my kids once when adults sighed because I was "in the way" in a few places (I was making selections too) or seemed not to know what to do with themselves. Then I realized the young man was missing an arm. Our smiles were mutual.

I have noticed that often this doesn't happen with temporarily disabled people--people who use scooters/wheelchairs while casted or who don't consider themselves disabled enough, so that they still don't engage with the rest of us. They often avoid eye contact, perhaps feeling uncomfortable or that someone will call them out on it. Sometimes people more severely disabled will avoid any eye contact or be blunt--I'm not sure if they're reacting to the perceived/observed differences in ability or if it's just distraction/concentration. Sometimes I can just focus on navigating my immediate path myself, though I am aware through peripheral vision of others with disabilities.

Besides the covert head-nod, there's also the secret neurology handshake, a bizarre ritual that the newly initiated learns by heart through experience. Arms up--press out, press back, arms up-hands curled up-resist, hands curled down-resist, hands out-palms down, palms up-hands curled, etc.


D Phoenix said...

I know the secret neurology handshake! Very funny. I hadn't thought of it that way before.

When I used to ride a motorcycle, riders would always wave when we would encounter one another on the highway. Lift your hand off the bar and wave. It was really cool. It never happened in the city, for some reason. Like the disability nod, I think it's about not being part of the dominant culture. I miss my riding days, but the nods of mutuality that I receive now mean so much more than the hand signal on the road.

FridaWrites said...

Yes, one has to experience the neurology handshake to know the neurology handshake! Now see if you can keep from snickering the next time you're in the office.

D Phoenix said...

True, we are an exclusive gang. I don't usually snicker in the neuro's office - so this is good! Now, if we could think of something to transform that nasty pin they poke all over the place...

FridaWrites said...

Besides, those pin pokes are too subjective anyway. It feels different on my left side but I lie and say it doesn't because I feel like it shouldn't or it doesn't feel different enough. The neuro does it, the PT tests with other stuff, the spine docs aren't that mean-- they really do relish sticking needles into people, but for quantitative (nerve testing) or therapeutic purposes (injections). I mean, what's the difference between telling them your sensations on one side are different and having them poke you and having you "confirm" it feels different?

The other thing I hate--the Babinski reflex at the neuro. One foot hurt for several days! Completely unnecessary, too much pressure.

It would be nice to reverse that zoo- or aquarium-like observation effect. Maybe make notes on the sociology of medicine during appts.?