Theo Braddy examines myths, stereotypes and assumptions about people with disabilities.
We have all had moments where we are in a situation and suddenly, something really stupid rolls off our tongues. It happens to us all but we usually realize we did it right after we foolishly say it. However, I don’t think people without disabilities really realize they are saying something really foolish or insensitive until after they say it, so I decided to address it in this segment.
Wish I Had One of Those
The other day I was coming out of a local mall and as I was exiting the building, zooming off the sidewalk, an older gentleman who was going into the mall shouted, “That looks like fun – wish I had one of those!” I smiled at him and kept on going to my van.
This happens to me all the time. Let me refresh your memory. I am a C-4 quadriplegic and I use a motorized wheelchair, not because it is fun, but because I am paralyzed from the neck down and I need it for mobility. Never once in my 40 years using a wheelchair have I ever viewed it as fun or thought that I should give it to someone as a fun gift.
Myth #10: Wheelchairs or other mobility devices such as motorized scooters are fun and exciting!
Reality: People with disabilities depend on these devices for mobility purposes. Often they are an extension of their body and personal space. They are not there for someone to be able to lean on or to rest their feet on. These mobility devices should never be so easily dismissed as fun items.
Yes, I know people like this gentleman probably just didn’t know what to say so he said something he thought was okay…but it wasn’t. This gentleman could have easily said, “How are you doing, sir” or “Have a great day!” Thoughtless comments diminish what is a life-changing device for me.
Okay, since I am on this road, here are a few other things not to say -
“Where can I get one of those?”
“Life must be so difficult for you.”
“I am so sorry for you.”
“I understand what you are going through; I broke my leg a while back and spent two months in a wheelchair.”
“What’s wrong with you”?
Okay, I hear you asking ‘What can I say?’ Good question! It’s really very simple: remember this – people are people. Say what you would normally say and just leave the disability or mobility device out of the conversation!