Salome Mikadze, 25, Tbilisi

„My symptoms were visible since early childhood. At some point, I became very sick. First, I started to limp, and then my condition worsened. Finally, they found out what was the matter with me. I was already using a crutch but it was getting increasingly difficult to walk. I think I was 10 when I first sat in a wheelchair. I was only a little girl and when I rushed forward, I remember thinking “Finally!” It was a sense of freedom. I loved it.

I could not go to school. In the elementary school years, the teachers would come to my home. Then I went to a special school on Temka. There were many children with disabilities there. The school was called “The Wish Tree”. We were taken there in the morning and brought home in the evening. This institution was like a day care center. We studied and did physical exercises. I went there for a while but then my parents decided to take me to a regular public school. I was put in the third form. The school had one ramp at the entrance. Even the bathroom was not adapted. All in all, the school caused me a lot of troubles but I think my family made the right decision.

On the first day, I found myself in a completely new and strange environment. Everything seemed bizarre and unfamiliar. We all were very young so my classmates did not have problem accepting me, however I did not have close friends among them, caused, among others, by the fact that I often had to miss school. I went to school on foot and when the weather was bad I was forced to stay at home. I am introvert so being in my space was more comfortable for me. I did not really seek socialization. My homeroom teacher always reproached me, telling my mother that I was too reserved. She pushed me to brighten up a little. She must have thought that I was like that because of my condition and it did not cross her mind that I may be like that by nature. It took me quite a lot of time to realize that there was nothing wrong with me and I am like that. I remember my homeroom teacher very well. She taught us Russian. I could speak Russian very well, having learned it from cartoons at an early age and already speaking fluently. I have warm recollections of some of the teachers, but there were also teachers that are painful to remember. They could insult and belittle you before the whole class without hesitation, any student, not just me.

There were teachers who would give me high marks when I missed the class, released me from quizzes and tests and told me I did not have to write them. On the one hand, being a student, I was glad to have it easy, or just did not care, but on the other hand, it annoyed the hell out of me. I remember thinking: “why should I leave? I am here so why not write the quiz. If I fail, so be it. Let them give me the mark I deserve”. It was due to their low expectations of me and the patronizing approach, which is actually rather humiliating. Over time, I gradually stopped learning those subjects. From time to time, my health condition aggravated. School authorities told my family members that they could not allow so many absences and asked them to take me away from school. They would give me a certificate of incomplete education. My parents thought I could always study as an external student later and agreed. I was so fed up by everything at the time that I did not object much. We made a big mistake, my parents and I, for agreeing to this. Well, there is no going back now.

After I left school, the financial situation of my family worsened. We lost the apartment we had mortgaged with a bank and had to move places. I started to work in an NGO in 2011-2012. My parents were jobless and I was the only person with income in the family. We lived on my salary and “pension” and somehow scraped by. I never stopped thinking about continuing studies. However, years went by and I could not get round to it. With my mother’s insistence and encouragement, I registered as an external student and passed exams for all the subjects of the tenth, the eleventh and the twelfth forms. It was true hell. I swear it caused my hair to turn grey. But I was finally done with it and received the certificate.

As a child, I had imagined my life like this: I had to finish school, it was a must. Then I had to enroll in a university, it was a must too. I had always wanted to be a psychologist. It was my dream that I hoped to achieve some day. I have not given up on this dream but now I have other concerns and responsibilities to deal with, such as a full time job with standard workdays. Yet, I hope to somehow squeeze it in my schedule, or at least take up online courses.

Currently, I am working as call center operator at GNERC.
The working environment and space is adapted. They had openly announced support for PwD, stating that they would give priority to PwD in case of equal candidates.

Generally, the attitude of employers to PwD is stereotyped. As a rule, they have low expectations and altogether avoid hiring a person with disabilities regardless of such person’s abilities, potential and ambitions. It could partially explain the fact that PwD are primarily employed as call center operators. It can be understandable because they haven’t had to deal with PwD or don’t have awareness of this issue. Everyone has to take care of his or her life. People tend to filter worries. You cannot expect everyone to concern themselves with other people’s problems all the time. It actually took me a while to realize all the stereotypes and the stigma that existed towards PwD. The moment the realization came, I started to have empathy to all the groups: enthic, religious, and sexual minorities. Now my approach is different. If I find out that a specific individual is given a hard time for being part of some group, or they are targeted for their identity, it disturbs me terribly, I have an acute reaction and see it as an insult to me personally. I can’t help it. This is because I know what it means and I can easily picture myself in that person’s shoes.

If you are a woman, and with disabilities too, that is the end of you. You don’t have a gender. My flirting usually ends with the so-called “friendzoning”. Sometimes I friendzone, and sometimes I am friendzoned. I don’t get my hopes up. As for sexuality, it is not only about sex, is it? It is about emotional bond too. When I start to think about it, I can’t help but remember the story of one girl, a friend of mine with disabilities who had a boyfriend. She married him against her family’s will. However, she left him very soon, after he started reproaching her “here… I have to take care of you.” He apparently expected her to be grateful for being honored to be beside him. I was a teenager then but this story scarred me for life. I remember it all the time and think that if someone dear to me said something similar to me, someone I let so close to me, I would probably not survive it. I don’t rule out anything to happen in the future, but so far every time I think of a possible relationship, this memory pops up.

I cannot define my sexuality clearly. I wonder how some people can be so sure about it. I just don’t think about it ahead. What matters to me is the relationship, emotional bond and contact with a person and, in it, gender is of secondary importance. I don’t rule out having such a relationship with someone of the same sex as me. And as for my interests… I’m not sure if it’s relevant but I’m never interested in the literature that tell the story of a heterosexual couple. I just don’t find it engaging and gripping. Yet, when I realized it, it did seem weird. I was taken aback.

We, the persons with disabilities, ruin the image of the perfect world and perfect humans; that is why, people prefer to keep us together and away from their eyes. The same goes for sexual minorities. The changes do occur, and people’s mindset broadens. Yet, sometimes they go to extremes and it leads to comical situations. For instance, when someone decides that you need his or her help and rushes to you, while you may not be in need of help at all and instead he or she may be in your way. Finally, on leaving, they will with you good health. Of course, they have best intentions but such instances are getting ridiculous. We start the change from our immediate environment. If a human being is doing no harm to others but is of an identity that is unacceptable to you, you cannot assume that he or she is a bad guy and must keep your opinion to yourself. Nobody asks you to love everyone but unreasonable hate will do no one good.”