Life is full of awkward moments. But did you know that, according to one of our Scope reports, two-thirds of British people feel uncomfortable talking to people with disabilities? And worse still, one-fifth of 18- to 34-year-olds admitted they’ve avoided talking to a person with a disability altogether for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. Scope wants to change that by raising awareness with their #EndTheAwkward campaign.
Here are some cringeworthy experiences people with disabilities have shared with Scope. You can also get tips on how to #EndTheAwkward from Scope’s website.
1. “Does he need a high chair?”
Phil’s a web and graphic designer from Wales. He has a form of dwarfism.
“Once I was going out on a dinner date, and the waitress asked my date if I needed a high chair before we got to our table. Needless to say, I do not. As you can imagine, this was an embarrassing situation for me and my date – but also for our waitress, who felt really bad and apologized. I didn’t take any offense, though; in fact, I had a giggle about it afterwards.”
2. “My boyfriend Googled ‘how to kiss a wheelchair user.'”
Emily is a travel writer and is currently working on accessibility at the Rio Paralympics. She also has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.
“My boyfriend and I, who have been friends since we were 16, still giggle about his confession to Googling ‘how to kiss a wheelchair user’ before we got together… I have just Googled it now and, not surprisingly, got results such as ‘bend down’ or ‘lean in’. My personal favorite has to be ‘say you want to tell her a secret, then go for it’ with a winky face for added bonus points. Luckily, he didn’t follow that advice…”
3. “I’ll fix you.”
Lost Voice Guy, aka Lee Ridley, is a stand-up comedian who uses a communication aid.
“I have gone on a few dates with girls who have come to watch my comedy, and one date sticks in my mind. First dates are always awkward, but this one actually went really well. The awkward part came the next day when she sent me a list of doctors who she thought could ‘fix’ me. Those were her exact words. Needless to say, we didn’t have a second date – instead, I sent her a list of doctors who could do brain transplants.”
4. “I can sneak anything into a gig!”
Sam has symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD), meaning the muscles that hold her pelvis together are too relaxed, and she needs crutches or a wheelchair to get around.
“I’ve noticed that whenever I use my wheelchair at an organized event, I never, ever get my bag searched. When my cousins and I all went to see the Spice Girls, they each in turn had their bags checked but for some reason I didn’t! We all had bottles of water and my cousins were told they couldn’t take them through to the arena. However, the member of staff bent down to me and said, ‘Oh, you can take your water through.’ It’s an interesting insight into other people’s awkwardness around disability. The fear of offending a disabled person is worse than a fear of a bomb going off – I find that absolutely fascinating!”
5. “Can you have sex?”
Samantha Renke is an actress. She has brittle bones and uses a wheelchair.
“Sometimes people don’t seem to know how to start a conversation with me, so they end up asking very direct questions. Like whether I can have sex, for example. I wouldn’t go up to someone in the street and say, ‘Excuse me, what’s your favorite sexual position?’ Or I get guys coming up to me and saying: ‘While you’re down there…’ Hilarious. I’m a northern lass and I can take as much as they can give, but I also like to be wooed and treated with common decency. I am a lady after all.”
6. “Have you got a license for that?”
Tom has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.
“I was shopping in Sainsbury’s last year when a stranger stopped me and said, ‘Do you have a license for that?’ (meaning my wheelchair), so I said, ‘I haven’t heard that one before!’ The man then added, ‘How long have you been in that then, because many people are just faking it and don’t actually need a wheelchair.’ To which I replied, ‘I just do this for fun because I have nothing better to do!'”
7. “But you don’t look blind!”
Emily Davison, otherwise known as Fashioneyesta, is a vlogger. She’s visually impaired and has a guide dog called Unity.
“On the bus one day I sat on one of the priority seats – those usually reserved for disabled people, elderly people or those with child. My guide dog was out of view and therefore to some I could appear to be a ‘normal person’ – a term I use very loosely. An elderly gentlemen boarded the bus and said to me, ‘Can you move please! These seats are for disabled people.’ It just so happened that my stop was next, and so instead of starting a brawl, I got up to expose my little four-legged friend, in all her guide dog splendor (neon harness). There was a deadly silence… He then responded, ‘Oh god! No sit back down… it’s…it’s just… you don’t look blind!’”
8. “My hearing aid isn’t an MP3 player!”
Jo is a Senior Producer at Unlimited. She also has a hearing impairment.
“I was working in a restaurant as a waitress and a customer put in a complaint [because he thought] I’d been ignoring him. I just hadn’t heard him try and get my attention as he’d been whistling and shouting at me, but all whilst I had been facing the other way. He thought I was being rude deliberately. It all ended up with him accusing me of making up being deaf as he said I spoke perfectly fine, and on being shown my hearing aid (which is a bone anchored one) – saying that it was an MP3 player! He just couldn’t accept he was wrong and so preferred to make up ludicrous reasons why I wasn’t deaf instead!”
9. “Our kiss caused a crash!”
Marie is a regular blogger for Scope. She’s 3-foot-6, has severe brittle bones and uses a wheelchair.
“So here’s the scene. Dan and I had just started dating. It was midnight and we were on the way home from the pub, holding hands. Dan’s into astronomy so we stopped to look at the stars. What could be more romantic on a beautiful evening? A kiss seemed like the natural thing to do. After a moment, I became aware that a police car was driving past very slowly. The officer was staring out of the window – eyes on sticks – like we were committing some kind of crime. He was concentrating so hard on us that he ended up mounting the pavement and crashing into a street sign. We couldn’t believe it! A few seconds later we heard the wail of the sirens and he sped off, clearly embarrassed.”
10. “Lazy? No, just disabled.”
Carol is an administration manager from Leeds. She has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, an invisible impairment.
“I was once in a lift with a very, very senior manager at a company I used to work for. I was going up one floor, but I needed to take the lift because I struggle to manage the stairs. I pushed the button, and he looked at me and said, ‘Only going one floor, are we? Aren’t we lazy?’ I smiled and said, ‘No, just disabled.’ To be fair to him he was mortified, and it made me laugh more than anything else. And he was always extremely considerate of my needs after that. But it struck me that that’s exactly how the world often sees disability.”
11. “It’s really nice to see you out.”
Kelly has spinal muscular atrophy and uses an electric wheelchair.
“At Global Festival, my husband and I were backstage dancing, and more people were watching us dance than were watching the actual gig. They kept tapping me and trying to give me high-fives. People come over on a night out and tell me how much respect they have for me. Just because I’m having a night out! It drops a downer on us when we’re having a good night by saying ‘I’m really happy to see you’re going out.’”
12. “I think that’s an ice cream van, love!”
Blogger and YouTuber Natalie has an eye condition called congenital nystagmus, sometimes described as “dancing eyes.”
“One time I was waiting for the bus, I began to wave it over, but it didn’t slow down. As it passed in front of me, the lady next to me said ‘I think that’s an ice cream van, love.’ Still waiting for my bus, a white van slowed down next to me and a guy popped his head out and said, ‘All right darlin’, where can I take you to?’ Obviously I politely declined the offer.”