As a wheelchair user there are certain comments, questions, and even jokes about my disability and/or being a wheelchair user that I hear often. And that’s sort of OK. I’m used to it and over being bothered by them in most cases.
People (strangers) will ask why I’m in a wheelchair, have I been disabled long, that sort of thing. Sometimes I answer, sometimes I ask why they want to know. That usually depends on whether they take me by surprise or not and how feisty and argumentative I’m feeling. And answers to my replying “Why do you want to know?” tend to be interesting too.
But this week I’ve been thinking a lot about how the thing that makes so much of what’s said to me inappropriate isn’t what was said but how and what was said and also when it was said.
Someone I’d just met noticed I have a problem with my feet – which it’s true I have a very noticable problem with my feet and the fact the loan powerchair footplates are in a weird position is probably making it more noticeable. The comment they made was “that’s a very interesting problem you’ve got with your feet.” It made me really annoyed. Now, had that been phrased as a question like “Do you mind if I ask what’s wrong with your feet?” or “my so and so relative has lymphodema is that what you’ve got?” (it is) I would have found it more acceptable. My condition being described as interesting was not. It’s a judgement and a hint of entertainment (in reality I suspect it was made from a place where the other person was uncomfortable with the situation and trying to make small talk)
And then on another day this week I heard someone else make a comment in a different situation. One I hear variants of all the time. It’s a jokey one but it’s old and it’s no longer funny (not that it really was in the first place…).
It’s not a comment that’s meant to be ableist but it ends up being so because as a friend pointed out yesterday an able-bodied person would never hear it made to them.
It’s the suggestion (made usually as I reverse my powerchair) that I need to get one of those things that beeps as lorries reverse installed on my chair.
I usually just want to roll my eyes and suggest that said suggestion is a bad idea. Would they like to be sharing a hotel room with me at two in the morning when I need to get up for a wee and my chair has a reverseing beep? Strangely they always say no.
I’m deliberately not mentioning where I was. But what I will say was a it was a long, difficult and upsetting day. And the person who made that comment (complete with actual beep! beep! beep!ing for the first time ever) was there in an official professional capacity and knew that is a situation which everyone finds upsetting.
It really wasn’t the time or place for any form of joke. It even more so wasn’t the time or place for a disability joke and as I said to another friend I can’t decided if it’s horrific that it happened or if it’s so hideously inappropriate and not funny that it’s become a little bit funny.
A lot of the time I can deal with the comments that people make. But it would be a lot easier if they realised that they so rarely are new or funny and there really is a time and a place for them.