Sometimes you can’t believe the nerve of some people. You really don’t believe they just said what you heard them say and you’re so shocked, you don’t have a response except asking them to repeat themselves and end up being offended a second time. Just this year I’ve been insulted more times than I ever had in the two years prior since I’ve become a paraplegic and I can’t say I’m surprised anymore at some of the things people say. To overcome, I’ve got Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” queued up on my phone and I’m not afraid to blast it.
There are many Disability Faux Pas guides that I’ve personally given to a few rude TA’s in college lab classes and they’re a great resource for a workplace, school or any setting where people accumulate and may come across a disability. I’d like to also share some of the most common ones I, and my husband, come across.
Out of the mouths of complete strangers (people who happen to be shopping in the same aisle of the grocery store with me or taking the bus next to me):
“Hey, how about a free ride?”
- Usually by a male and not one I would’ve given a ride to before the wheelchair
“I know how you feel. I broke my leg once”
- Really? REALLY?
“So can you like walk at all? Like if you really tried?”
- You know what, you’re right. I guess I haven’t “really tried” yet. I’ll give it a shot.
“Man, I couldn’t live like that. Life must really suck a lot of the time”
- When I have to spend a lot of time around people like you, it sure does.
I was once shopping in the nearby PX (the military version of a Target-like department store) when a young girl in front of me began walking backwards next to her mother so that she could stare at me while she walked. This is actually very common, but usually with toddlers and this girl was over the age of 10years. To me, that’s old enough to know better but learning social graces is the product of good or bad parenting and not the fault of the child. When her mother noticed her watching me, however, she didn’t correct her daughter or take her daughter’s attention away from me. Instead, she yanked her daughter’s arm and loudly said, “and THAT’s why we wear seatbelts!” as she pulled her daughter to another aisle.
Oh no, she DIDN’T.
And finally, the infamous, “Wow! What happened to you?”
- This one is at least somewhat warranted when it said more politely by a friend. But when it’s someone who is simply standing waiting for the same bus that I am, it’s an extremely rude question. It’s a personal part of my story and my life that I don’t have to share when I don’t want to share. Almost everyone agrees that it would be rude to approach an obese or even overweight person and ask, “So is this a thyroid problem or do you just not exercise enough?”. This is the same level of personal boundaries as asking someone in a chair how they got there. That’s a question for their doctor and for the important people in their lives, not to satisfy your curiosity.