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It's Like You've Never Seen Someone with Cerebral Palsy Before

Why Is Seattle So Weird About My Disability?

It's Like You've Never Seen Someone with Cerebral Palsy Before

Kelly O

I was born with cerebral palsy, and though I'm 30 years old, I didn't really accept that until I moved to Seattle last June. It was something I hid from, something I denied, and it was relatively easy to do so, because a lot of people seemed to notice other things about me before they noticed that. I'm from New Orleans, where anything goes, and I spent a long stretch in New Mexico, where anything goes but less flamboyantly so. The other side of my family is from the Midwest, where nobody really focuses on bodies one way or the other. Even when I walked around for long stretches in fitness-obsessed San Francisco, no one flinched at me or explained me away from their kids.

In Seattle, though, a lot of people seem to be a little unnerved by my disability, and in a way, I'm glad of that; it's forced me to recognize my own body, to stay aware of it. But the way I've been treated has been surprising. Most of my struggles up to now, though difficult, weren't confusing: My surgery at age 9 was hellish, but I knew that in six weeks, the casts would come off. My father's sudden death when I was 22 was horrendous, but I wasn't alone in going through it. In the last year, three more close family members died. I could deal with this, horrible as it was. I thought that meant I could deal with anything.

But I was caught entirely off guard by this sudden understanding that being alive in the only body I've got apparently makes some people uncomfortable in 2014, in one of America's most progressive cities. I moved here for books, coffee, writing, nature, food, even rain—not a daily crusade.

Seattle is the most accessible city I've ever lived in, but nearly every time I step out of the house, some weird shit goes down: When I remarked to a bookstore owner about the proliferation of memoirs in this age, she told me she had tired of, in particular, cancer memoirs. "Cancer is a reality," she said. Then she looked at me with sad eyes. "But cerebral palsy is a reality, too." I said, "Uh, yeah, and I don't write about it," and left the place in a daze. I've never had anyone assume I was sick, so at first I didn't even realize that she was comparing cerebral palsy to cancer. I've never felt comfortable going back in; I'm a little uneasy walking by. The worst part is knowing that she thought she was being nice.

So did the spandex-wearing passerby who told me on a steep street, "You are so brave." I told him I was offended; he said, "I wish I could help you." He didn't take in a word I said. A mellow voice does not a listener make, as even more effectively illustrated by a motorist who stopped halfway over the pedestrian line and smiled at my partner and me as though she was being gracious. "Why don't you move BACK," my boyfriend said, as she had ample room. "It's easier for you to move back than for her to walk around you!" She replied, in the sweetest, calmest voice, "Yeah, why don't you go fuck yourself?"

Life is better on the trails, where I'm treated like an equal. I had no idea, before I got here, that I could scale 800 feet, but on Cougar Mountain, people smile in a way that makes me feel they're glad I'm up there with them. The problem is, I have to come down.

One night, after a beautiful day of hiking, we passed a guy on the way home who hassled my boyfriend for money. I was prepared to ignore the question. But when I walked by, he didn't ask me for money. He shouted, "WHO DID THIS TO YOU?! WHO DID THIS TO YOU?!"

I kept walking. Then he shouted, "WAS IT HIM?!"

That scared the shit out of me. He'd accused my boyfriend of violence and looked quite ready to commit some himself. From all my fear, and my anger, and the burning insult of the accusation, I yelled back:

"BIRTH! I WAS BORN TWO AND A HALF MONTHS EARLY, YOU FUCKER!"

He ran.

I was relieved. Then I noticed several people across the street, all staring at me. Were they on his side? Did no one see the potential danger of the situation? Remember the crutches? If someone goes after me, I'm fucked, y'all. I'd like to be assured that if I stand up for myself against an aggressor, I'm going to be supported, not judged.

It's no better, though, to be simply ignored. A Sea-Tac Airport TSA agent fixed his eyes on my boyfriend while asking for my boarding pass. When I asked him to address me directly, he said, "Oh!" and apologized. "I'm used to talking to... you know," he said, gesturing in inscrutable circles.

"To what?" I asked.

"Talking to people and... talking to their caretakers."

Helplessness is an offensive assumption, but one I can swiftly disprove. How, though, can I convince people that there is nothing tragic about the way I walk? I ran into a pair of sweet parents with three adorable children, and the youngest child said, "She has a owie," so I explained that I was born this way and didn't get hurt.

"Some people need tools to help them," added the mother. "It'll heal."

"No," I said lightly, "it won't heal, but that's okay." I don't get a body other than this one, so it has to be okay. Why can't we tell our children, and each other, that all bodies are different, that some need more help with certain things than others, and that's fine?

Is it because it's not?

I've never lived anywhere full of such anxiety about health, let alone about the way health looks. Southern California has a reputation for being superficial, but my body feels welcome there; I get the same glossy smiles everyone else gets.

The smiles I get in Seattle seem to vary by neighborhood. At the top of Queen Anne Hill, no one treats me like they're trying to remember what to do, what to say. No one flinches in working-class neighborhoods, either. I can only surmise that if you've never had the privilege of expecting physical "perfection," you're fine with me, and likewise, if you can imagine having a child who's born with the same disability and you're financially secure enough to be able to adapt any of your family's activities to include a body like mine, you're fine with me too.

To accept someone is to listen to them. In Seattle, I've felt dismissed as confrontational, or been outright ignored, when I've tried to correct strangers' assumptions about myself. I would love to feel listened to, and to know that the questions I get come from curiosity, not fear. recommended

 

Comments (57) RSS

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Soupytwist 1
YES. YES. YES.
Posted by Soupytwist http://twitter.com/katherinesmith on April 30, 2014 at 12:08 PM · Report this
2
Why is Seattle wierd about your disability? I might ask that question about you. I say that as someone that has been volunteering to work with the disabled for decades. Please don't confuse our empathy with "fear". Many people are possibly confused about your disability but that's not fear. The last thing my disabled friends typically want is sympathy, but empathy seems the least that should be expected in a civil society. Empathy is not always expressed appropriately, but please be patient with us.
Posted by SOSac on April 30, 2014 at 12:12 PM · Report this
deadrose 3
I think a lot of people in this area feel that a disability is your fault, at least subconsciously. I see it a lot in people who assume I've been drinking or using drugs because of my clumsiness and occasional tongue-tangling bouts.

Sorry folks, the drugs are to treat the neurological disorder, and they make it dangerous to drink.

But it helps them feel that if they eat the current "right" diet and exercise, nothing bad will happen to them.
Posted by deadrose on April 30, 2014 at 12:46 PM · Report this
4
I was with the mom through "some people need tools to help them" but the "it'll heal" was just boneheaded. Of course kids are going to comment on anything different - my then-5 year old once pointed at a guy with a prosthetic leg and yelled "that guy has a robot leg! that is so cool!" which actually made the guy smile - but any parent that doesn't address it with calm, simple truth is an idiot.
Posted by StrangerFan on April 30, 2014 at 1:13 PM · Report this
5
@4 -- I love that!! And yes, I think the various ways children respond are part of what makes this conversation vibrant and fulfilling.

And yes -- I was with the mom too, until she stepped in and changed the story I'd just told.

Posted by SarahMN on April 30, 2014 at 2:21 PM · Report this
6
@2. Anyone who's confused about my disability can ask.

Empathy is about connecting with what another person actually feels, actually needs. Of course we can't be expected to know that in every situation, so we ask.

Speaking of asking, you say you have a question you might ask about me?
Posted by SarahMN on April 30, 2014 at 2:35 PM · Report this
7
Sarah,
You have very high expectations of us. How do we know what you or others "actually feels, actually needs". Yes we can ask; but if you evaluate everyone negatively because they don't verbalize their thoughts you are in for many more disappointments. We don't verbalize well with our spouses and friends, let alone with a stranger.
Empathy is the ability to share someone else's feelings and needs as we percieve them - and yes, we often mis-percieve. As I stated, please have patience with us.
Posted by SOSac on April 30, 2014 at 2:58 PM · Report this
8
So you reject:

empathy
normal Seattle passive-aggressiveness
an obviously crazy homeless person
someone who mistakenly talks to your boyfriend instead of you
a mother who was caught in a sudden confrontation

Honey, those are all things we all deal with. It's called the real world.
Posted by anita772 on April 30, 2014 at 3:47 PM · Report this
jesgal 9
As one who has lived with a disability my entire life, you need to deal with your anger and acceptance of self. To explode at a homeless man, someone who might have a disability himself. Think Schizophrenia, maybe? C'mon!

Anger is 2nd stage of loss, you will get to acceptance but it takes time. I am so happy with life and who I am. The horrific looks after my seizures plus it takes about 45 minutes to come back. During that time, people walk around me, called the police thinking I'm a drug addict, been robbed & have give me all sorts of looks. But I want to smile, send positive energy & love to everyone.
Posted by jesgal on April 30, 2014 at 4:29 PM · Report this
10
Some of these comments are just proving your point. Sarah, keep your chin up. Many of us out here applaud your honesty.
Posted by Someone nice on April 30, 2014 at 9:24 PM · Report this
11
Jesus, people, she's just trying to go about her day, and people get weirded out. She says she's not had the same kinds of problems in other places, so maybe it's not her attitude that needs adjusting.

Exploding at a homeless man? He started screaming first, and she was scared for her and her boyfriend's safety. I'd be angry, too, if someone accosted me like that. Her reaction was appropriate.
Posted by clashfan on April 30, 2014 at 9:53 PM · Report this
Buxtehude 12
So, maybe you should return to Southern California, for your own peace of mind. Seattle is not going to change for you. Why don't you learn to become a Seattlite, if we are so different? Then, you'll fit in just fine. Oh, and by the way, the Near Death Experience promises that your folks who have passed are doing just fine right now, and soon enough, you'll be seeing them again.
Posted by Buxtehude on April 30, 2014 at 10:03 PM · Report this
13 Comment Pulled (Trolling) Comment Policy
14
As an adult who's lived with a physical disability since childhood that can't be seen, I'd say your generalization is not inaccurate. More of us do think we are better, and on average, we also can't take criticism, particularly when it concerns privilege. Way to let little a little air out of the bubble!
Posted by theironyofcivilrightsinseattle on April 30, 2014 at 10:23 PM · Report this
15 Comment Pulled (Trolling) Comment Policy
16
#14, you wouldn't be referring to a 'soul' would you?

Let's set the record straight, children.

Nihilism and sociopathy are the same thing.

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=TojTlYNNm9w…
Posted by worthless_people_are_worthless on April 30, 2014 at 10:35 PM · Report this
17
#16 No, I said physical. Many people live with chronic pain and considerable bodily disfunction and you'd never know it by looking. Sometimes society is pretty insensitive about it and assumes you should not be effected by physical disability, especially progressive Seattle. Go Sarah!
Posted by theironyofcivilrightsinseattle on April 30, 2014 at 10:59 PM · Report this
18
Um, yeah. If that's you in the picture the only thing I can think of is that you're totally hot! I was disappointed about the boyfriend stories cuz I was kind of hoping you didn't have one! Not sure if that's good Seattle or bad Seattle. It's probably as superficial as the other stuff you're talking about, but it's the internet and that's what I think.
Posted by MyTake on April 30, 2014 at 11:35 PM · Report this
19
seattlites are disgustingly stupid & arrogant, but they think they are progressive and open. Its really a city full of xenophobes.
Posted by adamzilla on May 1, 2014 at 5:56 AM · Report this
20
The penultimate paragraph says it all. How everyone faces the world depends on past experiences and the available means of dealing with what life has in store. So isn’t it enlightening to read about her perspective? I agree completely that to accept someone is to listen to them. Listening is an act of love. The writing was beautiful and honest, and I hope to read more articles by this author in the Stranger.
Posted by Ledia on May 1, 2014 at 7:40 AM · Report this
21
Introverts make galling gawkers.
Posted by exactsake on May 1, 2014 at 8:36 AM · Report this
22
Thanks for saying this, Sarah. Seattle is weird about invisible disabilities, too. The prevailing attitude seems to be that:
1. My disability isn't real
2. My disability is my own fault
3. If I tried harder I could just get over it
4. I'd magically get over it if I only tried my new acquaintance's latest diet/supplement/acupuncturist/exercise regimen
For me, the hardest part of living with a disability is dealing with the stupid shit that well-meaning but clueless people say and do. I think it has a lot to do with their need to believe it couldn't happen to them.
Posted by jackalope on May 1, 2014 at 8:47 AM · Report this
23
You're being treated the exact same way everybody else in Seattle is being treated. And the man who asked if your boyfriend did that to you? Yeah, way to make fun of the mentally ill.
Posted by treehugger on May 1, 2014 at 8:47 AM · Report this
24
Wow, this is a fantastic article -- thank you for writing it. I do work for an organization for people with disabilities, and I still have to remind myself sometimes that everyone has strengths and challenges. I'll be sharing this.
Posted by friendlyanon on May 1, 2014 at 11:50 AM · Report this
25
Yeah, kind of an odd little mishmash of interactions. It sounds like more people in Seattle are acknowledging your disability than you are used to from other places you've lived. I'd tend to agree with #9 that these all seem like things you'd be able to deal with at 30 years old. You want some real Seattle attitude? I think you're just using your disability as an excuse to write an article. Probably even had plans for an entire memoir before the bookstore clerk shot that down.
Posted by cliche on May 1, 2014 at 12:48 PM · Report this
26
It sounds like you and your boyfriend go around picking fights with people over perceived slights. As another commenter said, you seem very angry. Maybe relocating was more difficult than you've realized or perhaps there are other issues. Talking to a counselor could really help you come to terms with your frustrations.
Posted by King Leer on May 1, 2014 at 2:17 PM · Report this
27
Dear Sosac, instead of "my disabled friends" you might say "my friends with disabilities".. We might want to consider them friends first, using people first language, and then whether they have a disability or not. Some people might say my rude friends, or stupid friends, instead of saying some of my friends say rude or stupid things.
Posted by Anonymous Social Service Agency Employee on May 1, 2014 at 2:31 PM · Report this
28
It's a bi-coastal thing. I have a slight disfigurement from invasive cranial surgery almost 20 years ago. People on the East and West Coasts react strongly and negatively to my looks (I was actually refused service at a University Village eatery because the server thought my looks made me contagious). People in other parts of the country don't react and it's never an issue in any situation.

Sarah, the sad truth is that people on the coasts tend to be more superficial than people in other parts of the country. The outside counts more than the inside.
Posted by Purrl on May 1, 2014 at 7:53 PM · Report this
29
I am disappointed in this piece, as it promises, but does not deliver. First, we are teased with:

"I'm from New Orleans, where anything goes..."

Then: "...but nearly every time I step out of the house, some weird shit goes down..."

If a person tells me they are from a place where "anything goes", and then proceeds to tell me about some "weird shit" that has gone down, I am expecting...really WEIRD SHIT. Like: "holy CRAP I can't believe what I am hearing!"

What was the weird shit? This: "Then she looked at me with sad eyes. 'But cerebral palsy is a reality, too.' "

No. That is not weird shit. That is just an awkward social encounter.

"Its Like You've Never Seen Someone With Subpar Social Skills."
Posted by AinWA on May 2, 2014 at 7:00 AM · Report this
30
One of my pet peeves is people who think they're helping, or expressing sympathy, or doing a good deed, but aren't ... and yet they get indignant when you're less than gracious about their "help". They inflict their "help" on someone, unasked, and yet you're the rude, intolerant one when you ask them to stop. This inferior they deign to help are denying their bid to feel good about themselves, and that's an insult to them.

Some random idiot with "subpar social skills" makes you uncomfortable, and suddenly it's YOUR problem to not make him feel bad? Screw that.

I suffer from chronic depression, and strangers trying to "cheer me up" or telling me "it's not that bad" (when they don't know what "it" is) is maddening. Is my lack of a smile really that upsetting? So I think I understand a little of what you're going through.

Protip for would-be helpers: Your intentions don't matter -- road to hell and all that -- only your (ham-handed and patronizing) words and actions. The *best* policy, as Ms. Neilson implies, is to say nothing unless someone asks for help. (Struggling with a door or falling on the ground are exceptions to the rule, but don't make a big production about it: ask, help if required, and move on.)
Posted by fmitchell on May 2, 2014 at 2:05 PM · Report this
31
I think that people in Seattle suffer from a certain amount of empathy exhaustion. Being such a liberal utopia we are forced to acknowledge every single disability, challenge, or social behavior as fully legitimate on its face. People just get sick of treating every single person they see as a special and unique snowflake. So, when a person with an *actual* problem, who may need actual consideration, walks by, they may find that they well has run dry before they got there.
Posted by highside on May 2, 2014 at 3:42 PM · Report this
32
"Please have patience with us."

Speaking as someone who also has had similar comments and things done to her as Sarah has, I can say that for me, I usually HAVE patience with people. But you have to understand that after 20+ years of getting the same crap over and over again... it gets old, and frustrating. And sometimes we'd like to smack people rather than smile and respond politely.

Like the person who told Sarah she's "so brave"? I've gotten that, too. It's stupid. We're not brave for living.

And the person who said they were used to talking only to caretakers? How about you try talking to the person with a disability first and see what happens when they respond, then go from there. Don't just assume.

Don't make us feel bad for getting frustrated with people. You can have all the empathy in the world, but unless you yourself are living with a disability that everyone can see the second you come across them, you can't understand.
Posted by Laura L. on May 2, 2014 at 8:30 PM · Report this
33
I think this was a great story - very eye opening, informative and an interesting POV. Whoever suggested a memoir (albeit sarcastically) I think that is a great idea.

FWIW I am a 40 something Seattle native and definitely feel there is a turning tide in how the city is (massively bigger, more intolerance and less overall friendliness). When I start to feel people are nicer to me in NYC, dayyammmn! :)

Sarah - thanks again for this story and your honest, candid take on things (and as mom of two, liked the story about that interaction as well - "it will heal" - jesus christ!).

thanks again!

PS hiker story - loved that too.
Posted by thestrangerrules on May 2, 2014 at 9:16 PM · Report this
34
@33 -- Awww, thank you!!

Really appreciate your support, and what you said about the memoir made me smile.

As for New Yorkers, it doesn't actually surprise me. A lot of my closest are East Coasters, and while they might seem a little abrupt on the surface, the kindness at the core is very real.

Thanks again, for reading and for sharing your thoughts!
Posted by SarahMN on May 2, 2014 at 10:52 PM · Report this
35
Terrific article. Thank you.
Posted by ooppoddoo on May 3, 2014 at 3:45 PM · Report this
36
I haven't a visible or invisible disability and yet I feel like there is something wrong with me.

I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area until I was 50. People can be rude in Caly but they leave you to live your life as you would like. They are not always into your business. Here people will not leave you alone. There is always some unwritten rule you are breaking.
And the rudeness, yes it is there, although attitudes are shifting as more and more people are from other areas.

You can tell within the first 30 seconds of a conversation if the party you are talking with grew up here or somewhere else. It is an intangible that is difficult to quantify but it has to do with feeling comfortable inside one's skin.

People that grew up here are uncomfortable with themselves and uncomfortable with you. There is a need to control everything. That translates into, "Better not disagree or state your preferences, you will get a lecture or at the very least a withering glance."

On the other hand people here are more caring than anywhere else I have lived, hence the progressive politics.

The problem is, there is a fine line between being caring and meddling. And if those that meddle could accept it when you say, "Hey, stop meddling." We could all get along much better.
Posted by mercedes1947 on May 3, 2014 at 4:54 PM · Report this
37
Oh wow . . . another outsider relocates to Seattle and blames Seattle for all the other outsiders who have moved here (locals became the minority in this town around 1995/1996).

Sorry, charlie, but you need to be more definitive when presenting information: was that crazy person really a homeless man, or simply another mentally ill and mentally-challenged person who relocated to Seattle and was almost immediately provided with Section 8 subsidized housing?

Did you ask any of these people where they came from originally, as I've met many an obnoxious person from Louisiana, Kentucky, Alabama, Texas, California, Pennsylvia, New York, Indiana who have relocated to Seattle?

This is a lame article, indicative of a trend of lamer articles recently in The Stranger.

Bad editors make for worse articles . . . .
Posted by sgt_doom on May 3, 2014 at 4:59 PM · Report this
38
And to those that are saying she doesn't get it. And y'all are so empathic. Here is the other difficulty with the culture here.

The kindness is there, but it is shallow. You always talk about how people from everywhere else are shallow and how deep Seattle-ites are.

Read her article again. The empathy is so deep that when she verbalizes her preferences ... empathy flies out the window. People get snarly. That is the point of the article.

One thing I left out of my first post: I was 50 when I moved here. In fifty years I was never treated as viciously, cheated, lied to, manipulated and scorned as I was in the first five years I lived here.

You advise the author she should be more self aware. It is you that needs to be more self aware.

I am loving the growing "outing" of the Seattle Freeze, the passive aggressive nonsense that is being addressed in articles and even Wikipedia. It is like a breath of fresh air that people are at last speaking out against the ingrained co-dependent plague that is Seattle and all of Washington State.

If Seattle wants to be a world-class city the people need to grow up and learn to live and let live.
Posted by mercedes1947 on May 3, 2014 at 5:12 PM · Report this
39
To Sgt. Doom your knee jerk reactionary angry accusatory post, proves my point and the author's as well.
Posted by mercedes1947 on May 3, 2014 at 5:18 PM · Report this
40
Sarah hit the nail on the head - Seattlites THINK they are enlightened and accepting so they don't try. Truth is many of them are NOT that way - only happy if meditating with a big pile of money under their yoga mat, and so busy trying to get that money, tied to their techie toys made by 'slaves' in Packistan and [American] Samoa, selling their souls for jobs making big bucks driving spendy cars, talking in hushed (enlightened-sounding) baby voices about how 'green' they live, because they recycle their latte cup.

Seattle is temperate but the social climate is effing cold, especially for recent arrivals being smacked around by this un acknowledged smugness. But, hey, Bellingham is WORSE.

Good job pointing out how non-empathetic Seattlites really are. Thanks.
Posted by 8 years here and countingx on May 4, 2014 at 8:09 AM · Report this
41
You folks posting here need to broaden your horizons and realize rudeness can be experienced anywhere. Here is an article about how unfriendly London is:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree…

This paragraph stands out:

"Surely the point of living in a city is that you don't have to talk to anybody. That's certainly a big part of why I moved to one. I grew up in a small town, where everyone knew who you were and how you were and perpetually wanted to know how your mother was doing. And while that's fine now and again, it can be incredibly constricting once you reach adolescence and start trying to carve out an identity for yourself."

FWIW, I don't think people are all that different from coast to coast. Climate, density, etc...the environment you live in can either bring out your bad side, or your good side. This idea that somehow Seattle is unique really doesn't hold up once you start exploring the idea a bit. I heard the SAME THINGS growing up in upstate NY "oh people are so cold here yada yada..."

If you need open, friendly people, move to a warm climate. Regions where people are inside all the time due to gray, cold or freezing weather attract introverts. Warm, hot regions are always OPEN..people out on the street, restaurants with tables and chairs out on the sidewalk...people hanging out on their porches or in parks.

Oh, but then you have to deal with accusations that the warmth and friendliness isn't "real" or "sincere" enough....

Wherever you go, there YOU are.

Posted by AinWA on May 4, 2014 at 5:35 PM · Report this
42
I am from Seattle. Left. Came back and in a lot of respects I know EXACTLY what you are talking about. I am in a wheelchair and have experienced on at least a month basis people asking things like, "What happened to you?" "What's wrong with you?" "Oh, I know someone in a wheelchair..."

Empathy. Sympathy. Get to know my name first. Say hi. Don't lead with invasive questions like that. I didn't find the most different aspect of your personal appearance (fat, bald, short, big nose) and ask you about that....It is unfortunate that many don't have manners. It is okay to tell them that they are rude.
Posted by jessalou on May 4, 2014 at 9:20 PM · Report this
43
All y'all who are getting defensive need to take a moment to think about WHY you're getting defensive. The mother? Started out fine, and was treated fine. But went on to completely ignore what Sarah Neilson said about herself and her disability. She had an opportunity to learn, and she chose not take it. The airport worker? Treated Sarah as a non-person by default. The homeless person? Made Sarah feel physically threatened. Anyone who has been harassed on the streets should know how frightening it is. As a woman, I experience such regular harassment and threat that it almost seems normal. But it isn't normal, and it should never seem normal. On the occasions I have snapped back at the men who say great things like, "Hey little girl, you got daddy issues?" "Hey red riding hood, little girl like you shouldn't be out at night alone." or classics like "Sup bitch, wanna suck my dick?" I have never regretted having spoken up. Most often, it catches them off guard. I have not had the misfortune to experience the more intense feeling of endangerment that someone with a disability is subjected to. But I can imagine. I can empathize. People need to know that the people they assume are helpless actually do have teeth. And thoughts, feelings, and strength. If this IS just "the real world," as many of you claim, then there is something very wrong with the real world. No one deserves to feel marginalized or threatened. Sarah does NOT need to "just get over it" or "deal with it." She needs to do exactly what she is doing-- speak out. And everyone else does, too.

Instead of criticizing Sarah and saying that you can't expect any better of uneducated people, why not take this opportunity to educate yourselves? You have just heard a largely unheard perspective. This is an invaluable opportunity to learn and grow. Don't be the mother who told her child Sarah would "heal." Be a better person.

I know you can.
More...
Posted by evadderley on May 5, 2014 at 10:12 AM · Report this
44
All y'all who are getting defensive need to take a moment to think about WHY you're getting defensive. The mother? Started out fine, and was treated fine. But went on to completely ignore what Sarah Neilson said about herself and her disability. She had an opportunity to learn, and she chose not take it. The airport worker? Treated Sarah as a non-person by default. The homeless person? Made Sarah feel physically threatened. Anyone who has been harassed on the streets should know how frightening it is. As a woman, I experience such regular harassment and threat that it almost seems normal. But it isn't normal, and it should never seem normal. On the occasions I have snapped back at the men who say great things like, "Hey little girl, you got daddy issues?" "Hey red riding hood, little girl like you shouldn't be out at night alone." or classics like "Sup bitch, wanna suck my dick?" I have never regretted having spoken up. Most often, it catches them off guard. I have not had the misfortune to experience the more intense feeling of endangerment that someone with a disability is subjected to. But I can imagine. I can empathize. People need to know that the people they assume are helpless actually do have teeth. And thoughts, feelings, and strength. If this IS just "the real world," as many of you claim, then there is something very wrong with the real world. No one deserves to feel marginalized or threatened. Sarah does NOT need to "just get over it" or "deal with it." She needs to do exactly what she is doing-- speak out. And everyone else does, too.

Instead of criticizing Sarah and saying that you can't expect any better of uneducated people, why not take this opportunity to educate yourselves? You have just heard a largely unheard perspective. This is an invaluable opportunity to learn and grow. Don't be the mother who told her child Sarah would "heal." Be a better person.

I know you can.
More...
Posted by evadderley on May 5, 2014 at 10:15 AM · Report this
45
#8 says it all. Thicker skin; grow some.
Posted by seatownr on May 5, 2014 at 12:46 PM · Report this
46
WHY are so many women so willing to give emotional power away to total strangers? Why are you so willing to diminish yourselves in this manner? I will never understand it. Years of so called feminist "empowerment" - and we still breed women who wilt at mere words. It might as well be "the vapors", for all the "progress" that has been made.

Thank god there have been women throughout history made of much stronger stuff. If it has been left to the type of thin-skinned, wilting flowers posting here, we'd probably still be denied voting and property rights! There would be ONE protest...some guy from the sidewalk would yell something insulting..and that would be it. Movement over.

Posted by AinWA on May 5, 2014 at 2:15 PM · Report this
47
Some of these comments are so disturbing to me. Seriously, guys? It is not okay for Sarah to talk about her very real, very not okay experiences because she needs "thicker skin". Right. Is it possible that you are just mad she's speaking up because it makes you uncomfortable, maybe question yourself and the way you've reacted to someone with a disability?

Ever met anyone with nonverbal CP? You should probably do try it. Ask them what their life is like, and how people react to them. Try it and get back to me.
Posted by kaitlin15 on May 5, 2014 at 7:36 PM · Report this
48
(Sarah, didn’t realize you’d be on this thread when I wrote some of this; please excuse informal third person)

I have observed the cultural commitment among some in Seattle which I think is the source of the disrespect Sarah describes.

I wouldn’t describe it as an aversion to confrontation, exactly. Instead, it’s more of a refusal to respond to direct expressions of anger. Generally, as she describes, including unwillingness to even understand a message expressed in anger.

As to why some people are uncomfortable with the way she walks, that I’m not as clear about.

I will say that I find the passive-aggressive culture incredibly frustrating, and I welcome the arrival of a new immigrant with a direct and assertive communication style.

In reading through the comments here, I’ve noticed a strong vein of what I perceive as rude and sarcastic attacks on Sarah.

However, I also perceive a hidden message behind at least some of them.

It’s what I find so irritating and objectionable about this particular cultural commitment—everything is hidden, indirect, mysterious.

What a cosmic irony that as a poet I’ve found ambiguity to be so central in my work.

Anyway, Sarah, that all sounds shitty and i’m sorry you have to deal with that crap regularly. If I ever run into you in my working class ‘hood in Burien, it would be my pleasure to show you the sights (won’t take long, this is burien.)
Posted by irjowo99 on May 6, 2014 at 6:43 AM · Report this
49
Screw the author of this piece of drivel, and @46 says it best, now this one of those women I am truly concerned with and who should be helped out in any way possible:

http://www.vice.com/read/bad-cop-blotter…

(Say, anti-Seattleite, was your daddy one of those crooked cops from N.O.?)
Posted by sgt_doom on May 6, 2014 at 11:17 AM · Report this
50
How can you possibly think it is brave to just keep quiet and take it? And how can you possibly think standing up for yourself by speaking out is weak? If everyone just sucked it up and silently "dealt with it," nothing would ever change. The shame and hate you are dolling out is precisely why it is so brave for someone to speak out in this way. No one should have to deal with your bull shit. Everyone trolling this article should be ashamed of themselves. You are exactly the people Sarah is talking about. You are the ableism that is plaguing Seattle. If you can't see that, you need to get off your "thick skinned" high horse and look at the world from everyone else's height for once.
Posted by evadderley on May 6, 2014 at 2:53 PM · Report this
51
I think whatever you put out there, you get back. If you are hostile and angry and dissatisfied, you'll get the same from those you interact with. It doesn't matter where you are. People are people.

I don't care what you look like, or how shitty your life is - we all have problems - but if you put a little sunshine in my life, I'll return the favor. And if you don't always get positive results for your efforts, you at least have the your own PMA to get by on.
Posted by ALialI on May 6, 2014 at 7:16 PM · Report this
52
I was lucky enough to have a summer job with a CP organization that promoted sports for youth with CP. It was a wonderful experience that I carry with me to this day. Those that I worked with that had CP were the funniest and sharpest and I'm happy that I never shy away from anyone with a disability because of it. onelove people
Posted by wewerebrainwashed on May 7, 2014 at 8:17 AM · Report this
53
Hey Sarrah, you're hot!

Don't pay attention to the haters. Some of us here appreciate you opening this debate.

I've lived in every major city and a few smaller up and down the coast, originally from Chicago and been all over this country multiple times. I really don't buy the geo-generalization thing y'all. There's knuckleheads and morons everywhere contrasted by some truly wonderful humanoids. I hope that from here on out you encounter far more of the latter. I do think that in general tact is something of a bygone era...sadly. So many people are socially challenged and do really dumb shit.
Posted by fuzzymuzzle on May 7, 2014 at 12:34 PM · Report this
54
come to Tacoma! we don't pretend to be nice or PC.. However, I've found south-of-King-County people to be more authentically nice, or rude, or whatever - way fewer phonies down here. the old WYSIWYG.

hang in there, Sarah. hugs from Jan
Posted by Tacoma has its positives .. on May 8, 2014 at 12:52 PM · Report this
TCLballardwallymont 55
"... In Seattle, I've felt dismissed as confrontational, or been outright ignored, when I've tried to correct strangers' assumptions..."

What's your point? I routinely dismiss and ignore people who want to "correct" others. The religious, the guy down the street who has alien computer chips implanted in his brain, politicians of every stripe, people who want to sell me something, ...and the list could go on for pages.

All dismissed and/or ignored. I don't expect to like, or be liked by everyone. It's not a big deal. In a city this large they have other people to work on, and I have better things to do.

I'm sorry you've run into some crazy people, but choosing to judge entire cities and neighborhoods of people for not listening to or caring about your "corrections" really seems overly self righteous.
Posted by TCLballardwallymont on May 9, 2014 at 3:16 PM · Report this
56
Sargent Doom, you really have no business criticizing this piece or its author. At least her message was grammatically correct and made up of coherent thoughts, unlike your comments.

I am 31, and have recently gone from being classified as "visually impaired" to "legally blind," as a result of congenital glaucoma. My impairment is obvious, as my eyes are noticeably different in appearance. I moved to Seattle after living in California for the first 16 years of my life.

Sarah, your article was well composed. I don't know whether my experience has been the same as yours, but your story has certainly caused me to stop and consider what my experience may be. And as far as I know, that is the purpose of journalism and personal writing - to bring forth ideas, to illuminate the experiences of others, to inspire thought. Your article does just that.

I actually saw you on the bus just about a week ago. You were speaking with another woman about your article and I decided to look it up. I overheard you mention to the woman, that your thoughts hadn't been so popular online. But it was evident in your tone, and by the words you chose, that you were not letting their criticism bring you down. Good for you.

As a preliminary examination of my own experience, I WOULD say that I've felt more marginalized in Seattle than in California(I lived in Oakland, Sacramento, Berkeley, and Marysville). But I if have to further consider whether this is related to the advancement of age, and the shift in social structuring that goes along with that. I do feel that the marginalization i experience here in Seattle is more hidden. I find that often times people will set up expectations for your behavior, performance level, and personality based on their perception of your disability, and what a person with that disability "will be like." They may limit you in their mind. We seek to categorize that which we are uncomfortable with, and that which we don't understand. I've done it myself at some point, I'm sure. As someone who has always considered themselves completely "normal" I do find this silent form of marginalization very disheartening and particularly difficult to deal with, because you don't necessarily know when it's happening, and how it's affecting you. Sometimes you figure it out - it still takes me by surprise, and it's tough to accept. Sometimes you won't figure it out, but you may continue to be marginalized by that person indefinitely. Ultimately it doesn't matter to me what other people think. The right ones get it, in the end. But I don't like having to consciously remind myself that I may not know where I stand with any given acquaintance, supervisor, friend, child's teacher, and so on. A professor once told me, and I've found it to be true, that people will generally make up their mind about you in the first 30 seconds of meeting you. If they are uncomfortable with something about you, you may be irreversibly dismissed or categorized. I think that all individuals face this reality, but disabled individuals have a higher chance of being dismissed in those 30 seconds. And I think that In Seattle, the difference is only that determining the outcome of those 30 seconds can be more difficult.

I'll have to think more on this. Thanks for the article.
More...
Posted by Nw girl 83 on May 15, 2014 at 7:13 PM · Report this
57
"Sorry, charlie, but you need to be more definitive when presenting information: was that crazy person really a homeless man, or simply another mentally ill and mentally-challenged person who relocated to Seattle and was almost immediately provided with Section 8 subsidized housing?"

I'll only list one...

Sargent Doom, each of your paragraphs are actually just single, run on sentences. Learn to write before criticizing the work of others.
Posted by Nw girl 83 on May 15, 2014 at 7:48 PM · Report this

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