Please Think Before Asking Someone a Question About Their Disability
When you have the pleasure of meeting or seeing someone with a disability, there are certain things that you should and shouldn’t do. Sometimes people don’t know what to do or what to say, so I urge you to think about it before you choose what to say.
I have had a disability since I was 15 years old, so I have heard my fair share of comments and awkward questions. I don’t fit the stereotypical “look” of being disabled so people often stare until they can figure out what my disability is. When I had my foot, it was less obvious, so I had people come up to me when I was in my wheelchair and ask me what happened after my accident. It was painful to talk about at that time. I usually kept a sock on my foot because I didn’t want people to see how disfigured it was. If I got paid a dollar for every time someone asked what happened, I would be rich. Usually people asked if I had sprained my ankle because my foot looked swollen from the muscle flap they put on it to repair it. I think the strangest question was when a man came over while we were on vacation and I was laying out at the pool and asked me if I got bit by a horse.
When it wasn’t as noticeable because of my pants and I was able to walk without assistive devices, people’s words and actions got worse because it was harder for people to see my disability. I had people call mall security on me for parking in a disability parking spot. The policeman questioned me for parking in a disability spot, and even though I had all the paperwork and sticker, he continued to question me and because their database was down he decided to “let me off the hook.” People would say things like, “Yeah you are pretty
handicapped” or call me “lazy.” I only used the sticker on the days I needed it, and if I was having a good day I wouldn’t use it in case needed it.
I had my leg amputated when I was 34 so I thought the comments would stop, but they haven’t. When I was able to wear a leg, I got more comments because you couldn’t always see what was under my pant leg. Even without a leg though people will say things that just shock me. It’s like asking someone when they are due after they have already had their baby. Once you say it you can never take it back.
These are some of the most awkward questions and responses I have had since becoming an amputee. They are often followed by awkwardness and/or silence.
“How long are you going to be like that?”
Me: “Uh, forever.”
“What did you do twist your ankle?”
Me: “No, I had my leg amputated.”
“I was on crutches once. I totally feel your pain.”
Me: Silence (Thinking: “Everyone’s story is different.”)
My 8-year-old daughter: “Are you kidding me? How in the world does she think she can feel your pain? You had your leg amputated.” (I still hear about this one randomly because it made her so mad.)
“I hope I am not lazy and use a scooter someday” (This was when I could wear my leg.)
Me: *Takes my leg, flips it upside down and pulls up next to said person and smiles as the man’s mouth was hanging wide open.*
I love kids! They are so innocent and curious and will come right up and ask, “What happened?” I tell them, and they say things like “I’m sorry” or even “That’s really cool” and go on their way. Sometimes they just stare, but usually if I stare back they will catch my gaze and just smile back.
Some adults try to sneak a peek and act like I can’t see them. People ask me if it bothers me that I get stared at all the time. Some days it does, and other days it doesn’t because I don’t
have time to look around to see how many people are staring because I am driving my scooter or trying to not fall down on crutches. It bothers my family more because they are the ones watching me and the people around me. I do think that it would be interesting to wear a hidden camera to see just how many people do watch me in a day.
If you have questions, ask, but make sure it is in the right moment and that you think about your question before you ask it. Some people will just smile or will ask if I mind if they ask what happened. I would much rather answer questions than deal with attempts at being funny or the small talk backfiring into awkwardness. Realize though that some people don’t want to talk about it.
Remember that once you say something you can apologize but you can’t ever erase it. Just because someone doesn’t fit your idea of disabled doesn’t mean they aren’t. You can’t always see the pain that may be going on inside their body. If you don’t want to stick your foot in your mouth, don’t judge or assume you know what you see in front of you.
Finally, don’t feel like you need to apologize for your child asking questions, unless they are inappropriate questions or the person gets upset about the question. Most of my friends with disabilities would rather answer questions, but there are some people who may not want questions asked. I suggest having a conversation with your child about when it is a good time to ask and when it isn’t. I personally always thank them for asking.
Getty image by yacobchuk