As I was scooting home from the shops in my mobility scooter, I passed two little boys playing in their front garden. They stopped and stared at me curiously. "She's not old", remarked the elder. "No", agreed the little one, "She's not old". And they returned to their game. I laughed and something clicked in my brain... I suddenly understood what is going through the mind of most people who stare at me.
Curious and curiouser
I get stared at a lot. People stare at me as I pass them in the street, on buses, in shops, at train stations, at the cinema, the theatre, everywhere. My default position when I see someone staring, is to smile at them. Thus acknowledging I’ve seen them looking at me and it’s ok. They smile back, relieved, and we get on with our day.
But it gets exhausting… Especially on days when I just want to put on my sunglasses, stick my headphones on and not have to interact with other humans. I don’t get to do that, not with a mobility scooter.
I have to make eye contact with people all the time to make sure they’ve seen me coming towards them. I have to be ready to stop quickly if a kid or a dog runs in front of me. I have to avoid crashing into people who walk backwards out of shops still talking to someone inside. (That is more frequent occurrence than anyone could possibly imagine.)
In the spotlight
I just always have to be on high alert and constantly aware of what is going on around me when I’m driving the scooter. Which means I have to interact with the starers.
I got my first mobility scooter aged 28. I never really thought about why people stared, but I always assumed there was some negative connotation behind it... ‘does she really need that?’ or ‘why is SHE using that?’. I performed on stage from childhood, so being looked at was something I was used to and enjoyed, but being stared at because I was disabled felt different.
Smile for stares
A few weeks ago I was at the supermarket and noticed a rather glamorous lady, probably late 70's, staring at me. I smiled back at her, but her expression remained stony. As we went round the shop we passed each other on several occasions and each time she stared, and I smiled back. Inwardly, I was getting annoyed, I am used to being stared at, but enough was enough.
Finally, I scooted passed her as she was queueing for the checkout. "Excuse me", she called out haughtily. I stopped, groaned quietly and turned to face her. She hesitated, stuttered something, then paused and took a deep breath... "I just wanted to say what a beautiful smile you have. I really needed that today. Thank you."
And thus I learned a lesson. Sometimes people aren't 'just staring'. Sometimes they need a smile.
As for the rest? ‘She’s not old’ probably sums it up.
Shana won Inspiration of the Year at our 2016 MS Awards