Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Talk to me... Sensibly

Having said yesterday about the ‘arm strokers’, there are some folk who are the exact opposite.

Some people won’t come near me, or my other disabled friends. They will give a wide berth, look away quickly and avoid any eye contact.

Some will stare from a distance

This wide berth syndrome is most often due to not knowing what to say, feeling awkward, or being fearful of saying the wrong thing. Some of my disabled friends have not been helpful in this by growling at people when they got it slightly wrong, even though they said what they did with the best of intentions. To those friends I say “At least they tried - get over it!”

I sometimes get round this fear by having a finger puppet on the joy stick of my chair. It makes children feel more comfortable and creates a talking point for adults who haven’t spoken to a wheelchair user before.
I never mind people asking about my chair - if they are sensible comments (more on that later), or even about why I use it. These questions are great for educating people (For example: A large percentage of people who use a wheelchair can actually walk, they just find it difficult/painful).

I can understand those who feel awkward around me. There are very few disabled people in our churches - way, way less than the national average. (over 90% of the disabled community have never heard the gospel). If you’ve never been around us, and only heard the negative propaganda, then it’s only natural you would be nervous.

To you I say - treat me like you would anyone else you meet. 

Like other people I have loves and hates, can compare coffee stories, can talk about knitting and even geeky things like gadgets, tablets and computers. What would you like to talk about?

If you’re worried about saying the wrong thing, all you have to do is ask. But be warned….. what is Ok for one disabled person may be wrong for another. For example: I’m happy for someone to offer help even if I don’t need that help. I’ll often say “no, but thank you for offering" because I’m thankful they asked and know that one day I might need that help. I know some disabled people that get all offended by the offer of help and I don’t get it. I do believe some disabled people need to lighten up a bit and give space for mistakes that can be gently and graciously corrected. So if you don’t know what to say - just try. I’d rather have a clumsy conversation than be ignored. And I apologise for my fellow disabled friends who may have been rude to you because they have a different point of view to me!

If you’ve read the previous two posts, you may think that this particular post doesn’t quite agree with them.

Let me explain: The latter two posts are dealing with attitudes, actions and comments that are beyond normal interaction - stuff you wouldn’t dream of saying or doing to an able bodied person. As I said in the last post, this is a good rule of thumb - would you say or do this if I was standing?

But please understand, wheelchair users can get irritated by repeated comments - just like anyone else.

Over recent weeks in my new chair I’ve had people say the same things over and over again, and each person thinks they are the very first, and each finds their comment hilarious.

Here is a snapshot of those comments:
“Have you passed your test in that?”
“Can I have a ride on the back?”
“Can’t he (my hubby) grab on the back with a scooter and hitch a ride?”
“Can I sit on your lap and have a ride?” (One person has actually tried!)
“You’re lucky having wheels”(!)
“Are you allowed to drink and drive?” (Said whilst I was drinking a take away coffee - sometimes the only way I can manage to drink a whole coffee)

I wrote a tirade on Facebook about it, but took it down later, as my friends were worried they had upset me too. One friend couldn’t quite believe it was that bad until some one said about sitting on my lap right in front of her! 

But there’s a difference about my friends saying stuff - they are my friends and I like them taking the Mickey out of me! They have earned the right to say stuff such as - “you need a reversing beep” just because I do! One friend took it upon himself to be my reversing beep for a while when I was with him - that was fun. They can call me a bad women driver - they’ve earned the right to do that by walking with me through the pain. I am secure in their love for me.

Feel free to ask me about my chair - I’ll tell you that it’s name is Pippin, it goes up to 5mph, it has powered tilt and recline, but it doesn’t rise up. It also has awesome suspension. For children who ask, I *may* even give a demonstration!

Tomorrow: The disability terrorists! (Or: “Some people with disabilities really don’t help the situation".)

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