Disablism is generally informed by stereotypes, ignorance and false assumptions about disabled people. Because of this, social norms are often suspended in encounters between disabled and non-disabled people.
A prime example of this disablism is people asking what could be best described as ‘silly’ and inadequate questions. Yes, they may in some circumstances be harmless questions, but they do highlight the lack of awareness, wrong assumptions or total ignorance that can grow into prejudices if not tackled early on.
Below are ten questions that disabled people often have to deal with – ranging from the more innocent to downright rude. How many of these do you recognise?
1. Do you need a licence for that thing?
Quite often wheelchair users are asked whether they need a licence for wheelchair use. It may seem like an innocent question, but would you stop a cyclist or even a pedestrian and ask them: ”Do you need a licence for walking/cycling?”
2. Do you sleep in your wheelchair?
If people don’t regard someone’s wheelchair as some sort of car that needs a license, they regard it as a bed, home and chair all in one. Although I can’t deny that I do dose off occasionally, especially when I was in lectures at university, most wheelchair users sleep in bed, like everyone else.
3. Oh, my friend’s daughter is in a wheelchair, do you know her?
Being disabled does not mean that you are member of a big secret club where everyone knows every other disabled person under the sun.
4. What day centre do you go to?
A frequently asked question based on the assumption that all people living with a disability use a day centre. There is nothing wrong with getting support from day centres, but people shouldn’t assume that, regardless of someone’s disability, all disabled people need to use day centres.
5. Can you drink and eat normal food?
For some peculiar reason some people think that if you are disabled then you must be on a strict diet. I’ve heard people being asked questions such as: “Do you eat normal food?” or “Can you drink?” Most disabled people do not have special dietary requirements and can indulge in whatever food they like.
6. Do you have MS?
It is good that people are familiar with the condition Multiple Sclerosis (MS). However, there are many other conditions disabled people may have. So, generally, the answer is no to this particular question.
7. Are you OK?
People seem to assume that if you’re disabled you are constantly in pain or that something is wrong with you. People also often ask: “Are you in pain?” or “Are you OK?” These are questions that may be asked repeatedly during an encounter. Consequently by the end of the meeting you will be annoyed and probably want to shout out “Yes! You are my source of pain and no I am no longer OK.”
8. Can she speak?
It is quite puzzling why a human being right in front of you directs his or her questions to your companion: “Can she speak?” “What’s her name?” Some people even ask: “What is her IQ level?” Apparently, IQ is important and OK to discuss in normal circumstances. It is most certainly impolite to inquire after people’s IQ in their presence, or out of it for that matter.
9. Is it contagious?
Disability is a condition and not a disease. Once the public grasps this distinction fully, questions such as: “Is she/he contagious may be a thing of the past.
10. Can you have intimate relationships?
It is understandable that disabled people may arouse curiosity, but is not acceptable to ask whether someone whether they can have intimate relationship or sexual encounters. Why is it that people would never ask a random person if they can have sex but it is alright to ask a disabled person? Just like someone wouldn’t ask: “Can you use a toilet?” or “Do you pass urine?”
It seems almost necessary that disabled people carry a sign that states: I can probably carry out all that you do, or more, only differently. Please, leave me alone and don’t ask me silly and private questions.
Have you been asked any of these questions? We want to hear about it. Get in touch by messaging us on Facebook, tweeting us @DHorizons, emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org or leaving your comments below.
By Raya AlJadir, edited by Karen Mogendorff
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