Thursday, May 23, 2013

Things Not to Say to any PWD Whether They're Using A Wheelchair or Not

I read this post about things not to say to a wheelchair user and I thought "a lot of these could easily apply to anyone with a disability", some of them have to be slightly altered but they definitely apply. I'm going to copy a couple of them because, well, they're just that damn appropriate (or I guess inappropriate in this case), but there are a few of my own here too. Similar phrases have been combined.

1. "What happened to you?" Especially when disabilities are visible, people will be curious, and that's fine, but don't act like you have a right to know everything about me and my disabilities after knowing me for all of a few minutes. If you want to know, be polite about it, and remember that it's not small talk for most of us. Also, if you ask someone who doesn't want to talk about it, respect that too.

2. "Is your significant other disabled too?" If you just met me, and I just said something about my girlfriend, that's likely the extent of what you'll hear about her. Asking a PWD if their significant other is also a PWD is like asking anyone at all if their mate is the same race or even what their sexual orientation is. We aren't excluded from "to each his/her own" just because we're disabled, even though there are people who think they can decide everything for us, regardless of our age, but that's a whole other matter.

3. "Good for you"/"You're amazing", etc. If you're calling me, or any of us "amazing" because we do something well "considering the circumstances", don't do it, just don't. All we're doing is living our lives to the best of our ability.

4. "Can I ask you a personal question?" We know what's coming next if we do give you permission to ask the personal question, and it's none of your business. If you do ask the question that I have in mind, you'll never hear the answer from me, and you'll never have a chance to find out in other ways, even if you want to. People have their preferences, we are not excluded from this just because we have disabilities, and we sure as hell don't have to be open books.

5. "You're not disabled/you don't look disabled". I've heard this a lot, and it drives me nuts. I've been living with two disabilities for my entire life and another chronic pain problem for the past two years. Don't tell me I'm not disabled, ever. It is never up to you to tell me when to "play it up" and when not to.

6. "Can't shouldn't be in your vocabulary". It can, it should, and it will be in mine. Everybody has limits, regardless of their ability or optimism levels. When I say I can't do something and you dispute that, you are insulting my intelligence, you are disrespecting me. Don't try it.

7. "Don't be such a freeloader"/ "you owe me". If you even attempt to believe that anybody with a disability doesn't want to be independent, you're sadly mistaken. Unfortunately, in many cases, the family of the disabled person is more guilty of this than anyone else. We all get discriminated against in the job market and most of us "aren't disabled enough" to collect anything from the government. Everything in the world costs money, and we have the same needs anyone else does. So many of us don't exactly have a choice in this matter. In some cases the lack of a choice is temporary, in other cases it's more permanent. We don't owe anyone for accommodating us. That's along the same vein as "you owe me for raising you". We're not in debt to family, friends, or society in general for anything. If any relationship is based on money, somebody's disability is the least of the problems.

8. "Don't like something? Change it." We don't have the option like most people do. We can't just "get up and do something". Sometimes we literally can't move due to lack of energy or the presence of extreme pain, other times it's an accessibility issue. If "changing it" involves transportation, transportation is expensive for me because I'm too far from a public bus to walk there and the service I have is overpriced. Access is different in different places, sometimes the "get out there and do something" option is simply not there. "If things get bad enough, you will" doesn't help your cause either, because the fact that something really needs to happen doesn't change that it might be impossible due to any number of factors including finances and accessibility.

9. "Act your age." We're often trying to do just that and, among many things, some of the other phrases on this list keep us from doing it. It's very hard for me to act my age when somebody is telling me where I can go, and when I can go there. Acting like $20 is a lot of money works for an 8-year-old but I haven't been 8 in almost 20 years, don't try it on me. Telling me who I can and can't see doesn't help my cause or yours, and neither does thanking someone for being my friend. It's hard for me to "act my age" when there's somebody hovering over me telling me exactly how to live.

10. "Let me help you."/"I hate watching you struggle"- These are often said while something is being taken out of our hands, literally. If we need help, we will ask. Please do not force your help on us, demean us for not accepting it, or even demean us when we do ask for help.

The list that inspired this post only gave 10 examples, but after reading all these,  some of you may be thinking that I don't have respect for a lot of people, but I really do, I respect people who respect me. That brings me to add a bonus item to my list:

11, "Change your attitude". Part of the explanation for this one goes along with #5, partially (and unfortunately) thanks to Scott Hamilton. His quote, "the only disability is a bad attitude" has been splattered all over the web with images of people with disabilities doing normal things. It's just wrong to assume that there are no limits and then to say that attitude is the only limitation. When you have a disability, you're often (if not always) expected to be the "happy, grateful cripple". We won't be happy all the time, we're human. We won't be grateful for things that make us feel nothing more than human.

Feel free to add via comments, but remember, I'm going for general things here that fit the title.