Friday, 16 November 2012

Chatting on the train

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. 


  1. I definitley agree, I dont mind at all telling people about my disabilities but when they're just asking to see if you can actually talk, or hold a conversation I hate it! I actually prefer to have people asking me as its better than them presuming things that arent true!! xx TIri x

  2. If the question comes entirely without any preamble - and depending on how I'm feeling physically (the more pain I'm in the less tolerance I have for intrusive strangers) - then my response is likely to be along the lines of, "And what makes you think you have the right to ask that?" To which I have yet to receive a reply.

    Fact is, I would never dream of accosting a stranger and saying, Hey, why do you have such a dumb haircut/horrible clothes/ whatever? It would be extremely bad manners

    Likewise - except, perhaps, in circumstances such as you describe - I feel unprompted enquiries into my disability to be equally bad manners. Perhaps it's a generational thing?

    In all honesty, though, it's not a major problem. Most people I encounter either don't care why I'm on wheels, or using crutches (less likely these days), and simply accept that I am.

    Which is as it should be.

    1. I agree. Although I have to say it is very rare I mind people asking about my wheels - perhaps because I love them so much - sporty, freedom-giving and all that. So I put random wheels comments into the same category as 'excuse me, where did you buy those awesome shoes' - which is very complimentary :D

  3. :)
    I work in a store. People think it is totally okay to just walk up to me and not really ask..but more like start mouthing off about my braces or my fan...
    Its winter and i have a fan pointed at my face (dysautonomia!..always sweating to death on standing!)
    instead of asking a question or assuming if im using it it must before a reason...they love love love to say a very sharp "oh it must be hot in here! or "why do you think you need a fan!" as they laugh and roll their eyes. old folks are the worst for some reason.
    as with braces...
    "so you have carpel tunnel" "oh my god what happend to you" "oh my god are you okay?"
    (if only they could see the shoulder tape ankle and knee braces under my clothes right)
    I have a doctors note on file at work to allow me to constantly have a glass of water (no one else is allowed) so i love from new employees
    "oh, you can just get a doctor to make up a note so you can have a drink or do you actually need that?"

    Its funny (not at all) that people have all the time in the world to make ignorant comments and have attitudes about something that doesn't even affect them,but they dont have the time to listen to my answer.
    I dont at all mind answering people who are truly asking and listening weather they make other small talk or not. i dont like stupid snarky remarks or questions when they arent going to listen to the anser.


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