First impressions are indeed powerful. They stick.
A visible disability makes a first impression about as sticky as they come.
This is what I’ve found when people encounter me as a wheelchair user. People freeze at elevator doors when they open to reveal my presence, for instance. There is no question that disability makes a strong impression. Even if I don’t see an outward sign, there is certainly an impact in someone’s mind (proportional to the degree of impairment, I’m sure).
The impression is that much stronger if you get the story along with it. Hearing that I was paralyzed for life at the age of 18, that I endured a broken back and 13 weeks of hospitalization, evokes a lot of emotion in people, with responses of shock or sympathy. Sometimes the reaction is as blatant as “I’m so sorry you’re in a wheelchair.” Read More