Dispelling Myths About People with Disabilities: A Community Blog

Theo Braddy examines myths, stereotypes and assumptions about people with disabilities.

Wish I Had One of Those

Written by Theo Braddy, Community Blogger | Apr 3, 2014 12:28 PM

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! 

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Comments: 3

  • claudzilla5 img 2014-04-04 09:00

    Theo, I have a more specific question along the lines of "what can I say?" My young children will often ask me, when we see someone who is using a wheechair, "what's wrong with that person?" or "why is she using that?" I usually respond by explaining that sometimes an injury or disease keeps a person from being able to move on their own.
    But sometimes the kids are more bold and will want to address the person in the wheelchair directly. On one hand I don't want my kids to be fearful of someone who has a disability, but I also don't want to put them in a position of having to be a teaching tool for my child. Do you find it to be generally inappropriate to allow a small child to ask that person directly?
    Thanks again for these great insights, Theo!

    • Theo Braddy img 2014-04-04 09:18

      Your response to your children when they ask you is a good one. In regard to your other question I encourage parents to allow their naturally curious children to ask a person with a disability directly. I shared on this in my blog entitled, The Lost Leg, when a young girl ran up to me and asked questions. In all of my 40 years living with a disability I have never known a person with a disability who would not openly explain their disability to a child. It is usually the adult who tries to keep the child from asking and unknowingly in-still a life-long fear of people with disability. Keep up the great parenting!

      • claudzilla5 img 2014-04-04 09:38

        I do remember that anecdote, now, thanks Theo. I also always encourage a respectful appraoch, not just yelling the question from across the aisle or something demanding like that.

        Everyone deserves respect - that's what I am trying to instill in them.

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