I grew up disabled in an abled world. I didn’t have many disabled friends and often times the abled people around me didn’t know how to handle me. I think a lot of people think of the hardest cases of disability when they hear the world “disabled”. I’ve personally seen people’s faces drop when they see me for the first time after hearing about my existence. Usually their mouths would fall open and they would exclaim something like, “But she’s so pretty!” or something similar. Now with the internet being as easily accessible as it is my friends have grown to include a lot of people with various disabilities and the one thing we all have in common is the amount of things abled people have said and done to us that is just plain out rude and demeaning. I recently asked my disabled friends to tell me some of the things they experienced and these are their answers along with several of mine that stand out to me.
- But she’s so pretty.
- Just stop being so anxious!
- You don’t have to be so rude! ( I said “no thanks, I got it” when they tried to hold a door for me and were actually in my way.)
- Weren’t you JUST in a wheelchair?!” “Yes, I’m an ambulatory wheelchair user. I cant fit a wheelchair down the aisle of this plane to get to the lavatory.” “So you can walk?” “Short distances, yes.” *Woman proceeds to complain loudly to friend about fakers*
- You’re too young to be in pain
- Stop talking about your pain on Facebook, it bothers me.
- Oh, so going to your doctor appointments is your full-time job?
- It’s a shame you’re disabled I’d have loved to take you out sometime. You’re gorgeous.
- Oh, you can talk?
- You can’t sit there, you’re a fire hazard.
- Yes it’s accessible, it just has three small stairs.
- Aren’t you too young to have arthritis?
- Migraine? Can’t ya just take a pill for that and come into work?
- While outside with my dog, “You’re so inspirational!” “For walking my dog?” *silence*
- While washing my hands in a public bathroom, “What’s wrong with you?” “Being sanitary is important to me?”
- At a party with my ex husband with a beer in my hand, “What about your medication? Doesn’t drinking effect it?” “What medication?” *silence*
- I had a roommate assume I take pain medication just because I’m paralyzed and they begged me to sell them some. I don’t take any pain medication and they refused to believe me.
- I feel bad for you. You’re too pretty to be so sick.
- You were fine yesterday. I think it’s an act.
- Why are you in a cancer center? You still have hair.
- You just need to stop all meds. That’s what is keeping you sick.
- You’re too young to have so much wrong.
- You can’t possibly be that sick or you’d never leave your house.
- If I were you I’d kill myself. I could never live in a wheelchair.
- How do you have sex?
- Can you have sex?
- You live ALONE?
- Oh…so you’ve never walked?
- *Waiter while looking over my head* “What does she want?” My bff, “Hell if I know, ask her.” This also goes along with several versions of acting as if the disabled person is not in the room and/or cannot speak for themselves.
- I would invite you, but it’s not accessible.
- Have you tried yoga, essential oils, green tea, etc
- What do you have? Oh my *insert random person here* has that too. Do you know them?
These are just a small sample of the things that are said to us on a daily basis. If I wanted to list everything that’s ever been said or done to me and the disabled people I know this post would have been a lot longer.
My point in all of this is these are not acceptable things to say to someone regardless of the situation. If a person wants to talk about their disability they will and if they don’t that’s there right. Personally I don’t like giving my entire medical history to a stranger in public and if a person pushes it I will give them the most gruesome details that will for sure creep them out. Why? Because I’m creeped out by their behavior towards me.
I guess people think it’s acceptable because we’re different? I really don’t know. I know a lot of people just don’t know how to handle someone who’s different and my best advice is treat them like you would want to be treated. If you wouldn’t want someone to be in your way, or a stranger to ask you about your medical history or call you inspirational just for being alive, don’t do it to others.
Oh and another thing, abled people seem to think it is completely appropriate to place their coat, bag, purse, arm, feet etc on disabled people’s medical and mobility equipment. THIS IS NEVER OKAY. Getting in our personal space is completely disrespectful and again, if you wouldn’t do it to an abled person, don’t do it to a disabled person. Our mobility devices are an extension of ourselves and if you wouldn’t place your purse on top of my head then please do not put it anywhere on my wheelchair. I’ll save what to do (and what not to do) when around a service dog for a later post.