Welcome back class to Disability Manners 102.
It’s been a few months since we’ve last met, but I felt that some people needed a refresher course.
I have been gone for three weeks and finally back in the ‘hood. Reflecting on the past three weeks of my life, has really helped me learn more about other people and their need for more education…shall we begin?
Lesson 1: “I know you can do it yourself, but I’m just going to help you a little” approach.
This method has been used on many people in wheelchairs for as long as I can remember. The walkee, an individual who possess the ability to walk, sees a struggling wheelchair user and acknowledges that they might, or might not be struggling. The do not want to hurt the pride of the wheeler, yet they want to help (or are fulfilling their obligations to the city, state or a bet). Often the approach used is “Hey there, I know you can do push yourself, but allow me.” and although the intention is sweet, and the offer is respectfully declined, the walkee takes control of the wheelchair and begins to push.
Why on earth would this bother the wheeler? Let me try to explain the complex workings of the differently-abled. Every person has a level of pride they have in their independence and abilities. Sometimes what looks like struggling, is actually an attempt at a good cardio. Or, perhaps the person with challenges set a goal for themselves and wants to follow through by wheeling from point A to point B. Perhaps the person in the wheelchair just prefers to do it themselves. Whatever the reasons, it is ALWAYS a good idea to ASK before you touch. If the offer is declined, it’s best and recommended to leave it at that. Any other gestures can be seen as hostile and toes, ankles and shins may be used in retaliation (*cough* I mean, may accidentally be targeted…I mean…you might get hurt…).
Think of it this way…
Say a walkee is running down a long trail. The said walkee is sweating, heaving and perhaps gasping for air. Perhaps the walkee is weakening by the moment and stops. A friendly neighborhood wheelie comes along and sees this poor soul struggling. Now, imagine the following dialogue:
“Hi there unsuspecting walkee, I know you are more than capable to make it home, but allow me to scoop you on my lap and wheel you home.”
“That is very thoughtful and kind of you, but I would prefer to walk home. See? My legs are good and strong and can make it.”
“You are strong (sigh as you say), bless your heart. But I think it would be better for your to give your legs a rest.”
“Oh, you’re are kind, whoa…yup, now I’m on your lap and look at that, we are wheeling to my house. How did you know where I live? Oh now I am upset on the inside because I really wanted to exercise. I can’t say anything to this kind wheeler, for he/she might be offended and think that all walkees are the same and will react the same.” Sigh…
The following scenario could have happened to someone at some point. It happened to me…several times. Some people will allow me to regain control of the chair after insisting that I would prefer to do it myself, while others are so overwhelmed by their own passion and good deed they forget that there is an actual human being in the chair in front of them and do not listen to the protests (regardless of how firm, and colorful the language is). Some people want and need the assistance. Some people don’t. It’s best to ask first (if I keep saying this, perhaps you will remember when the time comes).
True story…My friends and I were on our way to the cafeteria at TWU and we encountered a busy intersection. There were pedestrian crossing lights and I waited with my friends for the light to change to “walk” (how insensitive, right? Personally, I think it should read…”go”, but whatever…). The light changed and away we went. Apparently, I wasn’t going fast enough, or the good Samaritan didn’t think I was going to make it safely across (seriously…who would hit a girl in a wheelchair?)…so she grabbed the back of my wheelchair without a word (understand…I don’t have handle bars for a reason) and pushed with all her might. What she didn’t know was that I have to balance my body on my wheelchair in a specific way depending on if I am sitting, wheeling or wheeling really fast…and depending on if I am on rough terrain or smooth asphalt. I wasn’t prepared for the sudden push and my thumbs got caught inside my grab bar on my wheels in mid push. She pushed me into the street and down I tumbled in the middle of oncoming traffic (I’m hoping this wasn’t her intention…because she looked very remorseful afterward) and I ended up doing exactly what she was trying to prevent (I hope that was what she was doing…again…a little skeptical). We stopped traffic (again…hitting a girl in a wheelchair that fell out of her wheelchair…they’d have to be completely cold-hearted). Moral of the story…ASK BEFORE YOU TOUCH ANYONE.
I tried to help a deaf-blind girl cross the table once at a restaurant. I got slapped. Granted, she knew I was kidding and I was being silly…but still, I should have asked.
Lesson 2: If you must stare at a differently-abled person…at least give them a reason why.
“I don’t like your shoes”. “I have never seen a person with three sets of eyes before, I am curious.” “Wow, we are wheelchair twinkies”. Those are great examples of communicating to the handicapped as to why you are looking, without a lot of blinking and your mouth is a bit open.
Lesson 3: Don’t be afraid to offend, if you really, honestly and truly aren’t trying to.
I am not offended at labels. They are just that…a name to call a predicament, event, person, disability, or place. You can honestly refer to me as anything as long as you remember that you are wearing open-toed shoes.
But if you are trying to figure out labels for yourself, well, that is up to you my friend.
I accept: disabled, differently-abled, uniquely-talented, handicapped, gimp, lame, wheeler, wheelchair user, a person of color (wait a minute…hmmmm), the person that ran over my foot and is now getting away, and Visa/Master Card.
I think that is all for today, students. If you have any questions, please comment on this post! Have a great evening and good night!
"You looking at me? Are YOU looking at ME? You must be looking at me, because there isn't anyone here." -Misquoted HORRIBLY from The Taxi Driver