Just what does a disabled person look like?
When most people look at me, they see a healthy-looking 23-year-old. What virtually none of them know is that for at least the last seven years of my life, I've had hypermobility syndrome, a disabling condition that's unbelievably painful. It's invisible to outsiders, but I become exhausted by walking or just standing for more than a minute or two and I'm unusually prone to sprains and dislocations. For the most part, I've been able to manage on my own. Unfortunately, not everyone with whom I interact is aware of — or understanding about — my disability.
In January, I was riding MUNI and sat in one of those blue seats reserved for seniors and the disabled. The bus got crowded. On another day I might have given my seat to a senior, but I had twisted my knee that morning and standing wasn't an option. Suddenly, a woman came uncomfortably close to my face and said, "You should really give your seat to the older people on this bus." I calmly replied, "Actually, I'm disabled so I need to be sitting down right now." I thought that would end it — it has in the past — but she turned around and spat on me. No one defended me. No one said anything. Many people were staring.
I know this is going to happen again — to me and to others in a similar position. I hate feeling guilty about not getting up. I really hate the looks people give me when I board the bus and sit in those blue seats, like I'm so lazy that I took the front seat just because it was open.
Just because I'm young doesn't mean I'm able-bodied. Not every disability requires crutches or a wheelchair or is obvious to others. Mine is invisible, hidden in my joints and muscles, and you wouldn't know that I hurt every single day if I didn't tell you. And there are many disabled people like me.
I don't know how the people of San Francisco can be more educated about this, but I hope that one day, strangers will accept the fact that I am disabled without questioning glances, accusations…or their saliva.
With a Perspective, I'm Lia Seth.
Lia Seth lives in San Francisco and works as a bank associate in Palo Alto.