Bekki wearing sunglasses, smiling

I’m not a hipster, I’m epileptic! – End the Awkward

Bekki is 21 and an intern in Scope’s Campaigns team. She studied History at Oxford University, exploring disability and discrimination.

For End the Awkward, Bekki shares her own experiences of awkwardness and explains why there’s no need to hide from disability.

Awkwardness is a natural part of human interaction. However, when it comes to disability, awkward encounters often take on a slightly more negative tone.

Some conditions fall into a grey area between visible and invisible. Like mine, I have photosensitive epilepsy which you might not know just by looking at me. But I do have to use aids, such as specialised sunglasses, in order to go about my everyday life.

On top of this, there’s the stereotypical view that an epileptic seizure is always a convulsive seizure. In fact, there are over 40 different types of seizure which all look very different. This can be alarming and confusing if you aren’t familiar with them.

People often overreact when I have seizures

I have three different types of seizures; convulsive, prolonged partial and partial. Partial seizures happen most often and these are the ones I often encounter problems with.. They occur between ten and twenty times a day and can range from blank staring, to violent head shaking, or my eyes rolling back into my head.

During my more ‘alarming’ seizures, I’ve had people yell “WTF, are you the possessed or something?!” followed by that person rapidly removing themselves from my presence to avoiding assisting me because “I must have done something to deserve it”. I’ve even had religious officials telling me they’ll pray for me or making the sign of the cross at me, so I don’t go to hell.

Rebekka smiles at the camera

I’m not hungover, I’m epileptic!

The more typical responses I get are based on assumptions about why I’m wearing my sunglasses or using a Mac computer. They’re not what traditionally spring to mind when someone thinks of accessibility aids.

Because I wear my sunglasses on overcast days, during the winter months or inside, and can only use Mac computers (due to different pixel technology), I can no longer count the number of times I’ve had to say “I’m not a hipster or hungover, I’m epileptic”.

I’ve even had to avoid wearing hats because of the comments I get and the ease at which people can remove them from my head.

Avoidance really isn’t the answer

There is a reason why priority seating signs on transport and in bathrooms have been changing their disability signs. In the twenty first century we have begun to recognise that there are a range of different access needs and we shouldn’t make assumptions based on traditional representations of disability.

Some people may have never seen a seizure before, but street harassment and avoidance isn’t the answer. This only isolates disabled people further and makes everyone feel awkward about something that can’t be changed. It may look weird to you, but it’s part of my everyday life. And that’s okay. I came to terms with it a long time ago and often laugh about it with family and friends.

Engage with the awkwardness – it’s a fact of life, not a fact of disability. Maybe next time, talk to me instead of comparing me to a demonic entity?

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