The author (left) with friend Tanya de La Paz during the latter’s birthday. This was her first time to see friends, almost two months after her surgery. Today she has a day cane, and uses a shinier one for evenings.
The end of 2019 brought about a big change in my life. I had a mass, a rare nerve tumor, removed from my abdomen. The surgery left me with severe nerve damage to my right leg.
For now, I’m unable to walk at a normal pace and need a cane, or sometimes even a wheelchair, to cover longer distances, like in the mall.
I had my surgery abroad, where people and places are very accommodating of people with disability.
Unfortunately, coming home was more difficult. Manila isn’t friendly to persons with disabilities, and people’s attitudes need to change—they can simply be more considerate.
Despite my usual larger-than-life personality and my height, usually towering over people, being disabled suddenly made me invisible. People walking around staring at their phones have bumped into me when I was either in a wheelchair or walking with a cane. For the life of me, I don’t understand why.
To those who have lived with disability all their lives, this might not be news, and it can’t be easy. But it has certainly opened my eyes to new frustrations, and to how people treat each other.
Sitting in a wheelchair for the first few months after surgery was difficult, as not many buildings in Manila have proper ramps that are at the proper angle. They are all too steep.
Many buildings don’t even have visible ramps at the front. I’ve had to be brought up through the service entrance of a posh building because its ramp was too narrow for my wheelchair.
People walk and don’t move out of the way in ramps in High Street, BGC. One time in the grocery, a man crossed over the footrest of my wheelchair to join his companion in line in front of me. He sheepishly looked back at me as I stared him down.
Stumbling onto my lap
Parents let their children run up close to my wheelchair, almost stumbling onto my lap. Adults don’t watch where they are going.
Being unable to move was frustrating, affecting even my husband, sister or whoever was pushing me. They would end up yelling at people to get out of the way, too.
The experience made me grumpy and frustrated. I can only imagine the frustration of others who have been in wheelchairs all their lives. You want to get mad, but with whom? It’s hard to be angry with a whole mob of people who are not mindful.
Next time you see a wheelchair approaching the ramp or disabled access area, please be decent and step out of the way. Making yourself smaller and squishing to the side of a ramp does not work.
One of the most annoying things, by far, has been people who cram into an elevator ahead of those in wheelchairs or with canes. If you are only going up two levels in the mall, take the escalator and leave the elevators to those who really need it.
One of the more humorous things I experienced in my wheelchair was older people who would zip past me doing their fast walk in the mall. I got weird looks from them, probably wondering why someone younger-looking like me was in a chair.
One time, the person pushing me was weaving around an elderly gentleman, and he ended up yelling at her because she didn’t know where to go. One older lady helped us navigate a tight area of the mall, which was a nice reversal of roles.
Moving with a cane was slightly better. Guards of several establishments would hold out their arms to help me enter. At the same time people would also whiz past me, kick my cane, or let the door slam in front of me. My impaired walking makes me slow, so I can’t catch a closing door.
You would think people would hold the door for me 100 percent of the time, but it happens only 50 percent of the time.
One time, a fancy-looking lady and her bodyguard were in the elevator with me. I was standing in front of the lady, while her bodyguard stood next to me. When the door opened, he rushed forward and kicked my cane to hold the door open for his lady boss. I flat out told him, “That’s not cool.” Fancy lady boss just stared and walked past me. I understand that it’s the job of these bodyguards to do important things, like hold doors open and carry bags, but to be completely blind to the needs of others is downright bad manners. Perhaps he was afraid to be told off by his boss for not holding the door.
In contrast, there was a squad of bodyguards outside a private room of a restaurant we frequent who helped my dad and husband move me and my wheelchair out of the restaurant. Four of them stood up when they saw we had trouble moving out, and they helped us all the way out the door. When we saw them again in the hotel lobby, they held the door open for us again. Their boss was not even around to see them perform this act of kindness.
People also don’t know how to behave around people with disabilities. Many shop girls who I don’t know ask me: “What happened?” How can you tell if a stranger was born with a disability or not? Why would you think it’s okay to ask them? These are common courtesies many people don’t have.
To those who knew me before my surgery, it was fine to explain. Anyone who seems to have a disability should not have to explain himself, as it is personal and people should be respectful of it. Maybe it’s common courtesy that people simply don’t have.
I’ve seen strangers being so kind to me, helping me carry things, open doors and say nice things. I’ve also seen the worst of people. Thankfully, those people are few and far between.
But the sting of an inconsiderate person stays for a while. You will never know how much a small gesture means to a person with a disability until you are disabled yourself.
To those strangers who have been kind to me on the street, in the mall, who held the door, thank you. There are many who have disabilities who appreciate your kindness, too.
The next time you see a person in a wheelchair, using a cane, or who looks like he or she needs help, lend a hand, hold a door open, move out of the way, get out of the elevator. It will surely make their day.