The other day I was on the train.
As so often happens with me I got chatting to the chap opposite me.
We started off general stuff - and he then broached the subject of disability. Very cautiously. Unsure whether I would bite his head off in response.
Some people get offended when asked. I know they do. But personally I like this kind of conversation and appreciated his question. Why?
1) The initial chat had established that I was a person.
2) We had already exchanged pleasantries and I'd decided I wouldn't mind spending the journey chatting to him instead of staring out the window.
3) General travel etiquette in Britain (in my experience) is that if you make a comment about the weather or similarly innocuous subject, and the person gives a chatty response, and conversation develops, questions such as 'going anywhere nice' etc are quite normal.
4) It would be kinda odd for someone not to be curious about my wheelchair and disability when I am sat in what is clearly a very sporty set of wheels, have said I am on my way to hospital, my job is drawing disability related stickmen and I went dancing yesterday. (Ok, I can't remember exactly what I told him - but you get the point.) When doing general 'get to know you a bit' chat, people who ignore the wheels can come across as slightly odd. Awkward. Artificially ignoring something which to me is totally normal. (People who accept the wheels as normal are different. Hard to explain but it just is)
5) Most people don't have a close friend or relative who uses a wheelchair - let alone who has my conditions and is affected in the same way. So perhaps the only way they will learn to relate to people with disabilities is through talking to random strangers. If I want people to understand my viewpoint I have to take the time to tell them about my world - otherwise how can any prejudices be changed?
So I enjoyed chatting with this chap. We talked about other stuff too. Conversation drifted - like conversations do (I may possibly have advertised my stickmen products to him too).
However, I would like to point out that while asking about my disability in a mutually enjoyed (I hope) chat is fine (I can always say no/change the subject if I want) approaching me randomly in the supermarket and starting a conversation with 'why do you use that' or 'how do you pee?' is not.
I would still try to be polite, but I would really really appreciate people remembering that such random demands do not comply with general social etiquette for out and about. If you are nosy about someone try striking up a conversation about something general - like the weather, or Christmas. If they don't want to chat, back off. If you find yourself chatting happily and you are intrigued by an aspect of them - it is OK to ask - but respect their response if they don't want to take the conversation further.
P.S. I would like to add that "How do you pee" and other such questions of a personal nature are never appropriate unless you are a) my boyfriend/fiance/husband or b) My doctor/nurse.