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The Patronizing Attitudes I'm Tired of as a Disabled Person

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I have primary progressive MS, a form of the disease which comes on quickly and progresses rapidly. So from my first symptoms in 2004 until I finally went into a wheelchair permanently in 2010 was six years of a) not knowing what was wrong with me and b) losing my whole life as it had been before. ​

I’m sure we could all tell stories about things that have been said to us, things we don’t like. As someone with an obvious disability, they have mostly been ridiculous. But for those with invisible illnesses such as depression, anxiety and other mental health issues, comments are often hurtful and judgmental. Although attitudes are not always hostile, they can be something just as bad — patronizing.

What I dislike most, and I’m sure I am not alone, is being patronized. The view from a wheelchair is always waist height! This immediately makes some people think you need:

1. Ignoring
2. Pitying
3. Patting on the head
4. To be spoken to as if you were a child
5. Sympathetic looks

Wheelchair users are full of anecdotes about being treated this way, some very funny, others extremely irritating and patronizing. Somebody once suggested that I “learn Spanish, it’ll be a challenge” as if life wasn’t challenging enough! Or “I could really do with one of those,” referring to the wheelchair. These things are thoughtless and crass. Sometimes I say something back, mostly I don’t.

It’s understandable that people who have had no direct or regular contact with disability often find it difficult to comprehend. But if you can’t think of something to say that doesn’t sound bad, it’s probably best to say nothing at all.

Being disabled does not turn someone into a sub-human, or mean they only have half a brain cell. Different disabilities need to be treated in different ways, according to their various levels and limitations.

Have you as a disabled person experienced any of the problems I’ve talked about, or have any anecdotal stories to tell? I’m sure our community here on The Mighty would love to hear your thoughts. I would!

This story originally appeared on Belle’s Days.

Getty image by Triocean.

Originally published: January 14, 2020
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