Everyone likes to people watch. Whether you are sitting in a busy cafe or out doing the weekly shop, it’s natural to observe people and wonder who they are, where they’re from, what they are like and so on. But for people with a visible disability, they can often be on the receiving end of a whole range of reactions from people, some good, and some not so good.
Based on her own personal experiences, Andrea Ross takes a light-hearted look at people’s reactions and highlights her ‘top 5’ categories they fall in to.
I’m Andrea and I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1994 when I was 21. When out and about, I now use a wheelchair/scooter full time and a step to transfer. Activity is important to me. The feeling of empowerment gained from physical activity is surely something we can all relate to – there is no better coping strategy.
But if you’re going to try and stay active and have a life, you’ll more than likely face challenges. One of these is that you’ll be forced to interact with what I call ‘the normals’ AKA the able bodied. Here are a few of my own experiences of the normals I’ve met.
This person, on realising they are blocking the path of a wheelchair user, will throw their hands in the air and become very flustered. They’ll apologise profusely as if they had just stepped on the neck of your kitten. They will also tilt their head and look at you as though they can’t quite believe the terrible misfortune that has been bestowed upon you.
If they are very committed, they sometimes tear up. Their intentions are usually good, if a little misguided! If they know you, but have not seen you for a long time, or knew you prior to your visible disability, they’ll tell you how attractive/funny/clever you are. I think they say this as they really have run out of things to apologise for.
This one will presume to know everything about your condition and, as a result, your entire lifestyle, simply because their uncle once had a friend whose cousin’s cat sitter was also dealing with it. This will either be an example of someone completely cured, or the opposite extreme. Either way they’ll thoroughly enjoy sharing this with you to demonstrate their impressive knowledge.
If the said person overcame the challenges, the Know-it-All will then tell you how you can follow suit by either going onto a no gluten/no dairy/no meat/no alcohol/no fun diet, or by taking a tincture made from dried camel dung.
Duke or Duchess Inappropriate
This person can also have Know-it-All traits. I think this is because they feel they have an extensive knowledge of our health issues, which grants them permission to pry into the ‘members only’ part of our lives. They’re likely to ask intrusive questions about your relationships and intimacy, and they also have an unhealthy interest in your bathroom rituals. Fun!!
I have one of these as a neighbour. I heard him all morning pottering about in his garden, but the second I hauled my visibly disabled butt into view, he scarpered back inside like he was on fire!
Maybe he was worried I was going to tell him about my symptoms, like some door knocking religious zealot for our kind. Or perhaps force him to go and jam a fork through his kneecap so I could recruit him? Ha Ha. He wasn’t nearly cool enough. I wonder if this type of person is slightly resentful of our hedonistic lifestyle funded entirely by the taxpayer!
Ordinary Joseph (ine)
These are like the badgers on Springwatch – they are not consistently visible, but it’s very exciting when they turn up. You’ll recognise them by their ability to interact with you as if you are the valid society member you are. They may have a disabled family member, or just simply know not to define you by your disability.
They don’t see visible symptoms or ponder what lies beneath. For me, they observe me for who I am, not my disability, but my preference for all things purple but query my appreciation of all things skull (I don’t know why skulls, I just like them, perhaps because they look so damn cheerful!).
To conclude… I am sorry I can’t offer any techniques for dealing with some of these problem categories, but I hope I have raised a knowing smile or two!
However you choose to deal with them, I am sure you will make it work. We are all getting by, however we can, in every aspect of our disabled life. And the right way is the way that works for you. Never, ever, ever place dis in your ability.
By Andrea Ross
- Redefining Juliet and the perceptions of disability
- 10 annoying or innapropriate things disabled people have to endure
- 10 accessible days out across the UK
Do you know any of these types of people? Join in the conversations by tweeting us @DHorizons or leaving your comments below.