Erin Gough: Only thing tragic about disability is misjudged pity

I do not woefully wheel myself to work every morning, questioning why karma has dealt me this cruel blow.
I do not woefully wheel myself to work every morning, questioning why karma has dealt me this cruel blow.

Erin Gough responds to a column by Alan Duff that expressed sympathy for a range of people whose worries, the columnist imagined, were worse than a bad latte or the valuation of their house.

Dear Mr Duff,

I was sipping a double-shot soy latte when I read your column and felt I had to respond to your claim that people like me don't worry about things like coffee because we are too busy just trying to get through every doomed day as an unfortunate disabled person.

Wrong.

Disabled people demand good quality coffee too (it's no coincidence my flat's in upper Cuba St). We also despair about rising house prices.

To you I am the tragic wheelchair-bound "girl afflicted with cerebral palsy", "saintly", with a "beatific smile". You wonder how I can appear so "happy with her lot".

Here's the deal Mr Duff: disabled people are happy too.

Seriously.

I do not woefully wheel myself to work every morning, questioning why karma has dealt me this cruel blow. I do not have the theme song to Chariots of Fire ringing in my head as I bravely go about my disabled life.

I get on with my life, and it's a pretty bloody good life. The thing that isn't good are the people who are convinced that my life isn't any good and like you they have no qualms telling me.

Out with mates the other night a young woman came up to us and said, "I was feeling sorry for myself because my boyfriend just dumped me but then I saw all of you and felt so HAPPY and GLAD because at least I'm not disabled!"

This is not a random encounter. If I had a dollar for every drunken person who came up to me on a Friday night and congratulated me for being there and not sitting at home being sad and disabled, I would be a rich woman.

What am I supposed to say to something like that? "Thank you"? "Cheers for that"? "You're welcome"?

After hugging me and telling me how inspirational I am, she went on, "Can I buy you and your friends a drink? Do you drink?"

"Why yes I drink. And yes you sure can buy us drinks."

You see just like coffee, us disabled people sometimes like rounds of tequila shots as well.

Now here's where your column gets a bit weird and kind of creepy.

You wonder about my sleeping dreams, you wonder about my waking ones.

Rest assured, I dream just like you.

I have good dreams, bad dreams and at times on a particularly grey Wellington afternoon sometimes I daydream.

Finally, you ponder whether or not my heart is filled with envy of lucky, able-bodied humans like yourself.

Rest assured Mr Duff, my heart is not filled with envy when I think of you.

Nor is my heart bitter or resentful that you are not in a wheelchair like me.

As much as you seem to pity me - know that I also pity you.

Describing us as "disabled, disfigured, mentally unwell, every kind of social misfit" shows how little you know about disabled New Zealanders and the awesome lives so many of us lead.

You say it's time to wake up and smell the coffee - and I suggest you take some of your own advice.

- Erin Gough, Wellington

- NZ Herald

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