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‘I’ll treat you like a person because that’s what you deserve’. On disability and friendship

Grace Stratton is the 17 year old editor and founder of the youth website Letters to Corey. She’s also a wheelchair user. She explains how she always felt that defined her – until one day, it didn’t.

My name is Grace Stratton and I am supposed to be here to talk about my disability. However I talk about myself far too much on my own website letterstocorey.com, so instead I’m going to tell you about one of my friends. We first met when I was preparing for an interview with the band Clap Clap Riot and I wanted a fan’s perspective; his name came up as someone who could help.

I say we met, but our ‘meeting’ happened over Facebook. I prefer ‘e-meeting’ people because I often feel vulnerable when meeting someone for the first time in person because I worry about being judged because of the whole wheelchair thing. But if we ‘e-meet’,  I don’t have to worry as much –  I can ease into the wheelchair-ness.

I can’t remember when I told this person that I used a wheelchair – odds are I slipped it in between some Clap Clap Riot questions – but to this day we have never really discussed my disability. In fact I recently asked him if there was anything he wanted to know about Cerebral Palsy, which is my ‘condition’, and he said “Nah I did a school project on it in year 8, I’m all good.” His reply scared me more than any question ever could.

I am getting questions about my disability – whether it’s the random lady at the pharmacy who asked me if I could have children, or the young kids who ask me curly questions that even I, an expert in this area, can sometimes struggle to answer.

But my friend didn’t feel the need to ask anything. And it scared me: did him not asking mean he didn’t think that it mattered? Or did it mean that he Googled it and saw weird memes that put him off? Like, what am I dealing with here?

Grace Stratton

That’s the thing about being in a chair. As much as it just becomes a part of you, you never quite feel confident. I am secure in myself, but I always know that 99% of the places I go, I’ll be the only one in a wheelchair – and because of that, I sometimes lack confidence. I’m in a wheelchair and you’re probably not, so it’s likely you think you can’t relate. But trust me: if you forget the wheelchair, you can.

Imagine you’re walking into a party and you know you look banging, and that you can hold a conversation with people and have something to offer. But despite that, there’s a small nagging voice which tells you you can’t go into that party, because your hips look too wide or you’re not smart enough to hold a complex conversation with that handsome stranger. That nagging voice is something I experience too. It tells me things like “He’ll never give you the time of day” or “The obstacle is bigger than you, so stop trying.”

But I’ve learned that the nagging voice does not have power. We have power. That nagging voice may never leave us completely, but when we know it doesn’t have power over us, we’ll learn to silence it.

I’m usually able to successfully silence that voice in my head, but sometimes it does try to make a Britney-style comeback. It came back that day with my friend, because never in my 17 years had somebody been content not asking a single question about my disability. I think it threw me off so much because it meant I didn’t have to advocate for myself. I am so used to having to show that I am ‘a person’ to people –  I have had to be my best advocate, always – but with my friend I didn’t have to do that. To him I was just a person and I didn’t have to fight for myself any more.

I think that’s the same for everyone: we have to fight for ourselves, whether it’s the fight to create the perfect Tinder bio or an appealing Reddit thread, the fight for our careers, love life, children… We’re always fighting until one day, or one moment, when we don’t have to. If you’re like me, you might not quite know how to perceive this moment, but I am telling you: enjoy it, because the times when we don’t have to fight for ourselves are fleeting and beautiful.

While writing this I remembered one day I was explaining to this friend that I might need help when we go into town. His reply was “I’ll treat you like a person because that’s what you deserve” and I think perhaps that sentiment revealed everything I needed to know about him. As for the time he said he didn’t have any questions about my disability – that taught me more about disability than anything else I’ve ever learned, because it showed me that there is truly no separation between people and disabled people.

We all worry, overthink, fight for ourselves and at times lack confidence. Perhaps our true power comes when we understand that we’re all people – and if we’re lucky, we have damn good friends.

With dedications to my friend. Hope ya didn’t warp the vinyl.


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