Monday, June 30, 2014

This is me.

Over the years I've set up a few profiles on social and even dating websites. Hey, I like meeting people, is there a better way than the internet? I haven't used most of them in quite a while- the only things I'm on these days are Facebook and Twitter. But the other accounts still exist somewhere in cyberspace  and between all the spam that they generate a message makes it to my mailbox once in a blue moon. I mostly smile and discard, but one of them made me want to address a bigger issue on my blog. "Your picture is rude"- somebody wrote- "I know it's not you!". The photo in question was the 2008/9 shot taken on the bus, by Claudia Adrien for her online project. The picture is dated, true, but I haven't really aged much (to the extent that I was able to pick up my Polish ID card that I applied for in 2007 and that has waited for me at the agency until I picked up last year). But the complaint wasn't that I look older than the picture, the accusation was that  I didn't look like it at all. That it wasn't my picture. What that person was upset about was their assumption that I took took a picture of some poor, miserable chap in a wheelchair and I posted it as mine. Had I done that, it would have been rude indeed. What is rude however is the accusation. I really don't get it. There's not much I can do about my face. I guess many people who never met me for innocent and young when they see my picture. Only last year, when my foundation used my video and photos to promote its cause it was accused on Facebook by some random aggressive person who then went on about excessive compensation of nonprofits' boards of being a money grabbing fraudulent scheme and using "the poor young boy" in it's plotting. I didn't know the appropriate way to explain that I was 34, held 3 law degrees and was admitted to practice in two  jurisdictions.

 Yes, people think different things when they see my picture. But so happens that whoever the person that got all up in arms and high and mighty about people with disabilities turned out to be worse than the  hurtful phenomenon  they thought they were combating. And yes, I have friends that post caricatures, animals, a host of things living and dead as their pictures. My friend once tagged a bunch of our law school friends in a picture that appeared to be of a drag queen in strong make up. So I can understand that person's motivation a little bit.  Their idea was I was mocking or ridiculing special needs people. Because if you conclude than it can't be me, just by looking at a picture, you're assuming that because I'm in a wheelchair I wouldn't be on that medium or I'm incapable to use it. And that thought is offensive. You're assuming that some areas of life are inaccessible to people with disabilities. And we are first and foremost: people, just like everyone else. For a second I thought about responding. This is my Facebook, this is the book that I've written in England. But why would I? Why should I prove anything to a stranger who has nothing to do with my life. To educate them? To be proven right and make them feel bad?

  I for one never hide that I'm powered by four wheels and the strength of my arms. It's a part of my everyday life. Of course I could take it out if it makes people uncomfortable to see on a website, probably generate more messages while at it, but why would I? This is how I get around. This is me. Get used to it.

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