Years ago I was on my way to the cinema with a group of friends. On our way we were approached by someone who asked for directions. No one in the group responded, except for me. That made sense: I was the only hearing one of our group. After I showed directions, they asked me if I was their mentor. "No, we are friends on our way to the cinema." I got an admiring look and the compliment that it was really good what I did.
This passer-by sincerely meant well. Still, it was a hurtful comment to both me and my friends. Why they automatically assumed I would be the “mentor” of this group? Why wouldn't a group of deaf and hard of hearing adults be able to go somewhere themselves? Why couldn't I be equal to these peers?! And more of these kind of questions.
From an early age I felt connected to people who have thought a little more about life than the average person. Often these are people for whom life has raised bumps, like people with a disability. Because if you are blind or using a wheelchair, you often can't roll through life on the autopilot. Because you will walk into the inaccessibility of our society too often and too hard.
Feeling at home
Many people with a disability have undergone medical treatments. They often had to come up with creative solutions for daily activities, with or without tools, as well. And they have often also had to learn to deal with prejudice and discrimination. Of course all of this provides one with life experience and wisdom.
Equal amongst equals
Since I myself am not an average person either - although I didn't know why at that time - I felt at home with this colourful company. Here I finally was an equal among peers!
To me it was a compliment they saw me as an equal too. The fact that I didn't have a disability didn't matter to them. They were able to see beyond my physical appearance; they saw who I was. How is it possible that a bunch of young people take this for granted, while “normal society” hardly succeeds in doing this?!
My time with this group of friends has given me many unique experiences, that I wouldn't have missed for anything. F.e. from these people I learned to turn things the other way round: here was accessibility the norm, and outsiders were seen as being disabled. Because it is very sad indeed, if you don't know anything about accessibility and apparently aren't able to call an organisation that can tell you all about it. That is a severe disability!
The lesson to view things from a completely different perspective has always been in my mind. And I am grateful for it to this day.
Now, so many years later, my friends still are a colourful collection of people. Most of my friends do have some "spot": a disability, a chronic illness or they otherwise fall outside the usual white cis-heteronormative standard.
A good friend once asked me if I knew any “normal people”. Unsaid, he meant normal people like himself: people with a good job, a partner, a house, etc. Ironically, I knew that he had been seeing a psychiatrist for a long time and was using antidepressants. (So, he wasn't that normal himself either.)
But no, I hardly know normal people. No idea where I could find them!