Just see me

He bellowed slowly: “Are you meant to be out here on your own?”

I waited a while, thinking in my head, will I answer that or pretend I don’t understand? Eventually I decided to reply: “It’s my dog and I have a responsibility to take her for a walk.”

I could see his mind processing what I had just said. He stood, staring over my head at something invisible. He was quite old – in his 70s, I’d say – and wrinkly with his old bonnet on his head and pipe sticking out of his toothless mouth.

“Oh!”

Being judged happens to me every day. I wish people would just see me, not my wheelchair.

Since the age of 10 months my family and I have had to cope with my cerebral palsy. Yes, I am in a chair, but I can think for myself. I have feelings like everyone else. I can take my dog out for a walk if I want. Just like you.

I remember sitting on the floor, playing snakes and ladders, with my little sister. She got up and walked away. Wait a minute, I thought. How come she can get up and walk away when I’m stuck down here on the floor?

I asked mum how this could be. She explained that my legs didn’t work the same as Megan’s and even though they didn’t work I was still a person and I should feel normal.

She will always love me, no matter what. It took a wee while for this to sink in. I think it took me quite a long time to get my head around it, but I was quite young and just got on with what I knew was normal for me.

It wasn’t until I started school that things changed. I noticed how everybody seemed to stare at me. They were transfixed by my chair. Shy even. Too embarrassed to approach me, I suppose.

Only one person didn’t seem to be affected by the fact I was in a chair. Kerry – she just came over and said: “Hi”. We are still great friends today. She will always be my friend.

Being disabled is very easy for me as it is all I have known. However, it does have its limits.

Even though I have my independence I don’t have the ability to just walk out the door or go dancing.

I am happy. I have a chair that can go faster than some people can walk. Like a boy racer. I am happy. I have a loving family who are always there for me. I am happy. I have wonderful friends who make me laugh. I am happy. I have been to Disneyland Florida and met the cast of Friends.

– Emma Cassidy