When You See Me in My Wheelchair, Say 'Hello,' Not 'What Happened?'
Growing up physically disabled, I learned that greetings can come in many shapes and sizes. Almost like magic, the sight of my wheelchair has made typical “Hi”s and “How are you?”s completely vanish.
Instead I’ve gotten, “Are you OK?” the answer to which can vary depending on the day.
I’ve also had many people ask, “What happened?” I always blink at in confusion until I realize the sight of my wheelchair must mean that something happened. Honestly, all that happened was that I was born. It’s not a very interesting story to tell. Trust me.
And since everything seems to come in threes, I’ve also been asked, “Why are you in a wheelchair?” Typically that one is asked by children, and while I don’t mind answering them, it can still be quite jarring when I hear it from an adult. It’s not like I go up to them and say, “Why are you walking?”
While I like to believe many people mean well with these “greetings,” I know they come from a place of ignorance. I believe society often perceives disabled people as objects. Objects who are only here to inspire people. Objects who are only here to educate people. Objects who are only here for people to pity.
Sorry to burst any bubbles, but that is not the case. We are first and foremost people, and we deserve respect and boundaries just like everyone else.
Are there moments and situations where I don’t mind speaking about my disability? Of course. However, I do not owe a stranger the 411 on my medical history in the first few seconds of meeting them.
So, as an abled person who might be reading this, please think of how you like to be greeted. Then, ask yourself, “Why should I greet a physically disabled person any differently?”
It’s never too late to change your “What happened?” to a friendly “Hello!”