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Don't Pat People in Wheelchairs on the Head

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Do you like your hand? If you want to keep it, may I suggest that you don’t pat me on the head?

Don’t ask me why, but throughout my life, I have had random people pat me on the head, and it has always annoyed the hell out of me. Maybe it’s because I am in a wheelchair and my head is at “patting height.” Or do they think I’m not fully aware of what’s going on? Whatever excuse they have, it really hacks me off. You pat dogs on the head, not humans.

One day I had an awkward moment when a woman I have seen around suddenly patted me on the head for no apparent reason. I was so shocked because I never thought she would think about doing something like that. I know I shouldn’t have, but I lost my temper a bit when she did it a second time — yes, she patted me on the head twice! The first time she did it, I said something along the lines of “Please don’t do that.” When she did it the second time, I raised my voice, but even then, I don’t think she took me seriously.

Here are a few reasons why you shouldn’t pat people on the head:

  • It might make them angry. It made me so angry that I had a rant for about five or 10 minutes afterwards.
  • It could make them confused and upset.
  • It could make them jump. I am prone to choking on my food due to my poor muscle control. When she patted me on the head, I was in the middle of eating my lunch. When I jumped, I could have swallowed my food without chewing it properly by accident. This could have resulted in a choking episode.
  • It could have made my arms fly up because of my startle reflex, and I could have hurt them, other people, or myself.
  • I think this one is fairly obvious, but patting someone on the head is undignified! You don’t just go around patting people you barely know on the head.

I said to the person next to me, “What is it with my head?” I need a helmet with a blunt spike on top!

On a serious note, it is extremely irritating, and I do wish people wouldn’t do it. Unfortunately, I think I will have this issue all of my life. No matter how much people pat me on the head, I think it will still annoy me as much as it has always done.

So next time you think about patting a person with a disability on the head, please stop and think about how it may affect them; will it irritate them? Will they get embarrassed? I certainly find it irritating, embarrassing and a lot more. At the end of the day, it’s patronizing and inhumane.

Getty image by Jaykayl.

Originally published: February 21, 2019
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