Michelle was born with cerebral palsy and growing up she never saw herself as different. Then she went to a mainstream college and everything changed. People treated her differently and it really knocked her confidence. Rather than let it beat her, it motivated her to change things and she’s been raising awareness ever since. For cerebral palsy awareness month, she shares her ‘dos and don’ts of disability’.
I grew up going to a specialist school so everyone around me was disabled from nursery up until I was 18. Then I went to a mainstream college and that was a big culture shock. I’d never seen myself as ‘different’ – I was just me – but college completely changed my outlook on everything. People treated me differently and it really knocked my confidence.
Until then I hadn’t realised that being disabled can make you so segregated – you could tell that certain people just didn’t want to talk to you, they didn’t want to get to know you. People would either make mean comments or be overly nice because they felt sorry for me and I felt like I was fighting a battle every day. I just wanted to be treated like everyone else.
I’ve never disliked anything about myself but going to college made me realise that not everyone is going to be accepting and you do need to work harder just to prove that you’re a ‘normal’ person.
I think a lot of the time it’s because people just don’t understand. If they have grown up around disability or known someone who’s disabled, it’s not surprising. Up until recently, you’ve never really seen disabled people in the media so, when someone sees someone who’s a bit different from them, they’re not going to know how to act or what to say.
A lot of the girls I went to college with said they’d never known someone who’s disabled. All they had was this made up idea that disabled people are all the same. They’ve got these preconceived ideas and then they’ve never met anyone who’s disabled to prove that idea wrong.
My experiences at college completely changed my outlook and made me determined to change things. People need to be educated, people need to see disabled people in the media more. Then being around disabled people won’t be a big deal, because it will just be what they’re used to seeing every day. It becomes the norm. In the meantime, here are a few of my dos and don’ts.