Good manners at any time and in any situation just makes good sense. Proper etiquette for wheelchairs and scooters is a must. As individuals we are ambassadors for all people with disabilities. The way in which you behave may make someone look at another in a similar situation a little differently. It could be for the worse but it could and should be for the better. First and foremost, running over another’s feet is considered very bad manners. In a crowded room it may be disregarded because of the volume of potential victims. But you really can avoid the situation if you try.
When someone approaches you with the intention of giving you a hug or a kiss may I strongly suggest you turn the power OFF if you are using a device with power. It is a little difficult to explain your sudden departure through the nearest wall when a well-wisher taps your controls. Don’t laugh, it has happened to me and the poor friend felt awful. No real damage was done but another person standing nearby did walk a little funny for a few days.
If a stranger approaches and asks if they can help you, (say you’re shopping in a store), do not take offence. This may be someone who genuinely wants to reach out to another human being and assist. If you were able-bodied and needed help, I hope someone would be there to assist you. If you do not need assistance just smile, say thank you and decline their offer. Perhaps chat for a moment or two, one human being to another. If you can use the assistance, accept it politely. The best way to educate other people on the correct way to treat someone with a disability is to be pleasant. You can be quite self sufficient while graciously accepting assistance when necessary.
When a child approaches and asks why you are in a chair, be kind. This young child could one day grow up to cure the world of some dreaded disease. Be aware that what you say could be forgotten in an instant or remember for a lifetime. TELL THE TRUTH. I have never believed in telling lies because it is easier. However giving a six year the specialized ramifications of an exacerbation doesn’t make much sense either. I have had several conversations with children and by extension their parents. They usually went something like this:
child: why are you in that chair?
me: because my legs don’t work very well
me: because I got sick and my legs got weak
child: does it hurt?
me: no. I just sit down a lot
I find a smile and a genuine interest usually appeases the child and the parent. The parent at this point is often trying to drag Suzy or Joey away while apologizing to me. I tell them that I welcome the honesty of a child’s questions. And I do. Adults are either afraid to ask so they don’t look you in the eye or they are ghoulishly trying to get ‘the dirt’ so they can gossip later. Occasionally you do meet people who don’t care about the chair or the disability. Those are the people I prefer.
How do you deal with those people who condescend and discriminate? Well, toe squashing is an option but that is bad etiquette. You can explain succinctly that their behaviour is not appropriate or my personal favourite: loudly inform them that you have a disability, you are not stupid and they should stop treating you as if you are. That does get a few looks. And yes, I do feel a certain amount of satisfaction. Of course it is necessary to know your audience. Some people are dense enough that they will not understand what you are saying. Some people just need a gentle nudge; they don’t realize they are treating you inappropriately. Take the time to understand them before you respond. Most people are not malicious, just ignorant.
Finally, stop thinking of yourself as a disabled person. Think of yourself as a person. Hold your head up in public and be proud of who you are. Show confidence to the world. People will respond to how you treat them. If someone condescends to you, explain how that behaviour is unacceptable. Do it pleasantly and with respect. Now who is behaving appropriately? If you go out into the world with a smile on your face and in your heart you will meet pleasant people. If you are miserable you will find just that. Life is too short to be miserable.
Bravo, here, here!! so many things to say about this and you said it all so beautifully! Some people may not help someone with a disability because they were turned away rudely a few times, sometimes it’s because they are a bit selfish and need to think more of others…thank you for this post.
I appreciate your comment!
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I’ve pinged this post to one of my posts, you actually say it so much better than I do.
Thank you so much! I’m sure you say it just as well. I’ll check you out.
Touching on telling the truth, honesty, humor, and playing in pleasant chords our thoughts, feelings, and voices, strikes a lasting, true ring for every person. The etiquette lesson was a bonus. Professor Strunk and E.B. White may have used this piece as an example of desired composition in The Elements of Style.
wow thank you