Hannah smiling in her wheelchair on the beach with the sea in the distance

People treated me differently when I became disabled

Hannah is a 26-year-old part time student and also enjoys fundraising when she is up to it. She became disabled at 14 and, in this blog, she talks about how her experiences changed when she started using a wheelchair.

I was healthy and fine until I was 14. Then I had an ankle injury and from that I developed complex regional pain syndrome. My mobility deteriorated. I went from walking with crutches to needing a wheelchair and about a year after my injury, I was totally bed-bound. I spent 4 years in hospital and 18 months in a neurological centre. I also have hyper-mobility syndrome, dystonia, arthritis in my hip, osteoporosis and a plated femur. I came home with a 24-hour nurse and carer. I still use a wheelchair and I have an accessible car which has been good. I have more independence again. I can get to specialists and do things in the community.

People’s attitudes changed when I became disabled

In June my old school was doing a TEDx conference and they asked me to tell my story. I spoke about raising money for Starlight Children’s Foundation because they granted my wish in 2013 to go on holiday – I wanted to help them to raise money to grant other children’s wishes. I also spoke about how people changed when I became disabled.

One of my closing comments was “Next time you speak to a disabled person, try to look beyond their disability, they are just like you”. I was basically talking about how people used to see me as ‘one of them’ but now, because I’m disabled, they see me differently. I’m still the same person. It’s just that my legs and a few other things don’t work.

Some people were unsure of how to act around me. I thought if I was walking in here you wouldn’t act differently, so why are you doing that now that I use a wheelchair? It’s strange to think that people treat me differently, just because I’ve gone from standing up to sitting in a wheelchair.

Hannah smiling in her wheelchair in front of her sofa at home
Hannah sitting in her living room

Some people speak to my mum instead of me

Often people do avoid talking to me. If I’m in a supermarket and ask someone “Can you tell me where this is?” they give the answer to my mum. I don’t understand that. If a non-wheelchair user asked a question, you wouldn’t give the answer to someone else.

Whilst I was with my mum at the checkout of the supermarket helping put the groceries into the bags, it came to paying. I retrieved my debit card out of my purse and put it in the machine. I requested cashback and then typed in my pin. I took my card out and awaited my cashback. Which the checkout assistant then gave to Mum with the receipt. I paid the bill and Mum got the cashback. I’m not sure how that works?

Once when I was out with my mum, someone asked her ‘Can she speak?’ – meaning me. My mum, a bit taken aback, quickly replied “Why don’t you ask her!” I think people are afraid of saying the wrong thing but saying something is better than saying nothing.

Hannah smiling in the garden holding her TED talks programme
Hannah in the garden

People treat me like I’m just a wheelchair

Once, at a craft exhibition, it was crowded so a lady just stepped across me and held on to my armrest just to support herself. She said “oh sorry” when she realised what she was doing and I thought “don’t say sorry – just don’t do it.” That happens quite a lot. At the same exhibition a lady put her shopping bags on my feet. Which was actually really painful. I’m not some sort of stand for you to put your bags on!

People often lean over you or stand in front of you, which they wouldn’t to anyone else. Some people even switch my wheelchair off and move my wheelchair too. That’s really annoying. I wouldn’t go and switch off your car.

I often get asked personal questions

We went to go see a house to see if it would be suitable for me and the Estate Agent said to me “So what do you think of the house?” then their next question was “So what’s wrong with you?” then “Will you ever walk again?” – I’d never met her before! That’s literally your first question to me?

It’s so damaging. It’s different if people volunteer the information or if you know someone really well. I get that they might be interested but it’s very personal information. Especially someone you’ve never met before. They can walk away and just carry on with their life with no extra thought about it and you are left feeling deflated, reminded of the reality you are living in.

You look well so you must be fine

There are times when people have said “Oh you look wonderful” and I’m like “Well we’ve been up since 7 am getting ready”. I like to look smart and presentable but sometimes it gives the wrong impression.

People say “You must be fine if you’ve managed to do all that.” It makes it harder for people to understand. But we shouldn’t have to change our lives to fit into someone’s idea of what a disabled person should look like.

Everyday equality

People should think of disabled people like any other human being. We’re the same, it’s just that we have extra difficulties to face in life. Talk to them like you would anyone else and don’t make assumptions about what they can and can’t do.

You can watch Hannah’s TED talk on YouTube.

If you have a story you’d like to share, get in touch with Scope’s stories team.

20 thoughts on “People treated me differently when I became disabled”

  1. Hi Hannah! Thanks for the post! I was born with Cerebral Palsy and Hydrocephalus and am in a powerchair. I get the same comments as you and It’s really annoying. People can be so unbelievably rude. I love shopping and have had the payment/till scenario happen so many times or people talking over me or to the person with me. Attitudes really do need to change but I have no idea how to get them to. My fiancé, who does not have disabilities, is always witness to peoples’ reactions to me. I have a great neurologist, but many have said “what a strange combination- CP and hydrocephalus! You are a strange case!” The neurologist I get on better with said “You are a person”. That’s how I feel – shame others don’t see me that way at times.

    1. Hi Katherine,

      Thank you!
      I know I don’t know how people can be so rude sometimes.
      Yes it is hard to see how to get people to change. Hopefully, with more blog posts like mine from scope, education, experience and the power of social media etc things will change.

      That is great you have a good neurologist. It makes such a difference.

      Hannah x

    2. Hi, I have cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus as well and I’m not in a wheelchair. I could not imagine how difficult it must be for you. I know for myself just having those conditions makes it hard because people don’t see it unless they pay close attention and become impatient with me sometimes or they don’t understand the pain I am feeling but I will be discussing it.

      1. I really understand what you are going through. I hate it when people are impatient. I’m 35 and my parents and family still get impatient with me. Fortunately I don’t live with them. I’m going to write more entries on my new blog soon which is a life/disability/ fashion/ beauty blog. justkatherine.wordpress.com

  2. Thank you for sharing Hannah. Born with low vision, I always felt individuals treat people with disabilities different. You explained my thoughts better than I. Thank you.

    1. Hi Donna,

      Thank you. You are welcome! Sometimes it can be difficult to explain. Let’s hope with scopes vision things will change.
      Hannah x

    2. Hi Donna, I was also born with low vision and I have Cerebral Palsy and Hydrocephalus. I have had strangers as well as family treat me differently. So much so that my own family never registered me as disabled and blind. So, I took matters into my own hands and did it myself.

      1. Hello Miss Katherine. My goodness for your parents to not register you as disabled. Had my parents not helped as I grew up, I do not think I would have known enough to do it myself. Good for you!

  3. Hi Hannah, I have MS and am 32 so do understand somewhat where where you’re coming from however you contradict the message you are trying to prove by saying-

    “My mum, a bit taken aback, quickly replied “Why don’t you ask her!” I think people are afraid of saying the wrong thing but saying something is better than saying nothing.”

    Then saying-

    “The Estate Agent said to me “So what do you think of the house?” then their next question was “So what’s wrong with you?” then “Will you ever walk again?” – I’d never met her before! That’s literally your first question to me?”

    So maybe people do feel they can’t say anything right?

    I understand the estate agent could have been slightly more tactful but what is your message? That people treat you like everyone else and do ask you questions? or continue to feel afraid of saying the wrong thing?

    Sincerely, Sophie

  4. Hannah, I am inspired by your story. I do not have a disability yet. However, I think about it everyday. My father happened to have acquired a hearing impairment after completing college. That was before all of us were born. I am not sure if he had met my mom by then but what I know is that my mom never insinuated, to me at least, that my father is different from other men of his age in the village. To us he was a father and half (that means he was our hero). As his children, we never saw disability in him. What we saw were his abilities not his inabilities. I wish other non-disabled people could develop such an attitude towards people with disabilities. Right now I am busy writing a book on mainstreaming disability into development programmes. I try hard to motivate this idea when I get a chance to talk with policy makers here at home but at times I get a feeling that I am flagging a dead horse. This is just to say I understand pretty well where your expressed feelings are coming from. I hope and wish the world could change but this is the reality we are faced with. Let’s keep pushing. You never know the outcome of your passion unless you start expressing it.

  5. I have a chair for long distance walking. (For example going to Disneyland,” My twin boys happily use the chair when I want to walk. They noticed a shift on how people treated them. They often say that they like messing around with the chair and doing something different but they dislike how people treat them when they are in it. If a person doesn’t believe it, then all you have to do is your very own experiment. Sit in a wheelchair and stroll around a mall. Go ahead! I dare you!

  6. Hi Hannah, what a great read, I do hope peoples attitude towards folk of all ages who need to use a wheelchair will change and blogs like this will really help. Can’t believe your Mum got the cash back.

  7. I have a genetic disorder that causes severe joint damage and as a result I have been a wheelchair user for several years. Everything you mentioned in your article was spot on.

  8. Very nice read, you write beautifully. When I was 11 I had a head injury playing a childhood game. Not all disabilities can be seen and often I wonder why we don’t all band together. Good luck to you, keep writing.

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