Internalized ableism and fat phobia

For our upcoming convention, I’ve decided to use wheelchair assistance in the airport (using an airport wheelchair with an employee pushing me) and to rent a portable power wheelchair while there.  This is due to continued pain in my foot and the more recent (starting this winter) pain in my hips that occurs when I walk for more than about 15–20 minutes. I was in bad shape after our airport outing, and I was only walking around for a little over an hour.

Brad was really concerned that not only would I be in pain at the convention, but that I’d push through the pain and seriously injure myself like I did with my foot that I’m dealing with a year after I injured it.  Yep, that’s what I’d do!

Turns out it’s only $90 to rent a portable power wheelchair for an entire week.  I would have it delivered to the hotel where we’re staying, and picked back up from the hotel. So I’d use it during the two couple-hour-long local outings (testing and shopping center training) during the convention proper, but more importantly I’d use it on Monday’s sightseeing day where we’ll be out and walking around downtown Long Beach all day. This place only rents by the week, and the daily rentals at other places are higher than the weeklong rental I’ve found.

I’m having some trouble picturing myself using the wheelchair at the convention.  I’ve gotten OK with the idea of using wheelchair assistance in the airport, as I’ve had that reserved for a week now. But for a power wheelchair out and about I’m really struggling.

I’m struggling most with being a fat woman in a wheelchair with two small dogs.  I feel like people are going to see me and think “fat” “lazy” “entitled” “faker”, and so on. I think if I were a skinny person with the same situation (power wheelchair and two small dogs) I’d still be dealing with the ableism, but it wouldn’t be as bad because I’d feel like people would take me more seriously as a skinny person.  People see fat people in wheelchairs and automatically assume they’re there because they’re lazy and inferior.  Especially in power wheelchairs—we aren’t exercising after all.  But there’s no way I can push myself in a manual chair because of the arthritis in my hands that I’ve had since middle school.

Being a fat woman in a wheelchair with two small dogs makes me feel embarrassed and guilty about the state of my health and about even existing in the world.

I’m also worried that some people will think I am “collecting disability aids”.  That I somehow want to be more disabled (or at least have more visible signs of disability), that I want attention and so on.  I know in my heart I don’t—I don’t want the hassle of dealing with yet another power wheelchair in a taxi, I don’t want the expense of renting it, and I enjoy walking around.  But I’m worried that people will see me as attention seeking.

It is sad that our society has trained us since we are infants to have these stigmas against disability and against fatness. And that these are so deeply ingrained in us that even I, a disability advocate, feel embarrassed and guilty about using the aids I need.

If anyone has any support, I’ll gladly take it. But mostly I wanted to document my journey and share my struggles with ableism and fat phobia. I hope that a few years from now, I’ll be able to look back on this post and see how much I’ve grown in my acceptance for myself and my needs—however they may evolve.

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