Glancing down at my bloodied and bandaged arm, I realised what he meant (Picture: Emily Tisshaw)
Clambering into the back seat of the taxi with my friend, I was grinning from ear to ghoulish ear.
But then I noticed the driver was looking at me disapprovingly from the rear-view mirror.
‘You shouldn’t be dressed like that,’ he announced.
Looking down at my short skirt, I opened my mouth to embark on a feminist lecture about how I could wear what I wanted, when he carried on. ‘It’s offensive to disabled people.’
Glancing down at my bloodied and bandaged arm, I realised what he meant.
But it wasn’t a fake stump that I’d recreated as part of my costume – and I certainly wasn’t being offensive.
I have grown up navigating the world without a left hand (Picture: Emily Tisshaw)
I thought it ridiculously quick of him to make a passing judgement on my costume — perhaps a ‘How are you two ladies doing tonight?’ would have been nice instead.
It was a snap judgement that backfired for him, because I had actually been born with one hand.
I have grown up navigating the world without a left hand – my arm stopping just below the elbow.
I open crisp packets with my teeth, use my thighs to hold things in my lap and you won’t catch me doing handstands any time soon.
I have had people stare at me and make comments about my arm my whole life, so this scenario wasn’t new in that sense, but it did catch me off guard – to be the one accused of discrimination.
I wrapped my stump in a bandage from an old first-aid kit and squelched on a load of fake blood, to make it look like I had a severed limb (Picture: Emily Tisshaw)
I used to be self conscious about my arm, but I was finally learning to embrace it.
This Halloween, I’d decided to incorporate it into my spooky alter-ego. So as well as a ripped shirt and mini shirt, I’d wrapped my stump in a bandage from an old first-aid kit and squelched on a load of fake blood, to make it look like I had a severed limb.
And, judging by the taxi driver’s reaction, it seems I’d done too good a job of it.
Turning to my friend, we locked eyes and both burst out laughing.
I couldn’t believe he had thought my outfit was some kind of a prop or fake limb. The driver now looked very confused.
Still smiling, I held up my arm to show him it was attached to me.
When I explained that I had been born with one hand and that underneath the bandage and blood, was my real arm, he quickly apologised, then fell into silence.
It felt like he didn’t really care about disabled people – he just wanted to have his say (Picture: Emily Tisshaw)
Now that my shocked laughter had also quietened, I found his lack of conversation frustrating.
His initial reaction had been to judge and accuse but when there was nothing for him to reproach me about, he suddenly stopped speaking.
It felt like he didn’t really care about disabled people and them being offended. He wasn’t the slightest bit interested in me or my background or story – he just wanted to have his say.
This is something I notice happens frequently with people who claim to be championing the rights of different minority groups.
They appear to care more about their voice being the loudest, instead of demonstrating any compassion, empathy or understanding for the people they claim to be advocating for.
I see this happen mostly online – perhaps because it’s easier to point fingers when someone is hidden behind a screen – telling others off for what they can and can’t say because it’s racist, homophobic, ableist, etc.
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Most of the time I’ve noticed it’s caused by someone asking an innocent question or making a passing comment that may be slightly ignorant, but not intentionally malicious or outwardly discriminatory.
The taxi driver was most likely embarrassed, but that seemed strange coming from someone that only two minutes before hadn’t been embarrassed enough to accuse me of ableism.
Of course I didn’t let him ruin my night, I even had a joke with another taxi driver on our way back home, exclaiming loudly that he had to turn back because I had ‘left my arm in the cloakroom of the club’, holding my still-bandaged stump in the air.
But the first taxi driver’s eagerness to reprimand me before he had even said anything else has stuck with me all this time.
If he had asked me a question to find out more about why I had a bandaged arm, then things could have been different.
Perhaps he wouldn’t have been so embarrassed and apologetic, if he had been curious rather than accusatory.
If only we could create a world that prioritised open-mindedness over hostility and accusation, we could live in a more understanding society.
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‘You shouldn’t be dressed like that,’ he announced.