Saturday, 16 November 2013

12 tips for dealing with able-bodied people

Having read a few blog posts recently about how to interact with people with disabilities/not be able-ist which I didn't entirely agree with, I thought this one (written to me, from my perspective, based on my experience and observation, with a bit of silliness. May not be applicable/relevant to all.) was overdue:

1. You are an ambassador for people with disabilities.
Whether you like it or not. You might be one of very few people with visible difference that an individual meets, so how you react will colour there perceptions of disability and future interactions. Your reaction matters to your future, so be nice.

2. Offers of assistance can be refused politely.
Even when it is the 9th offer and all you've done wheel easily round your favourite shop. Sometimes you will need help, sometimes others will need help so you can't afford to make people scared to ask. Assertive is fine, but aggressive is not. It helps to start by thanking them for the offer...then give a firm, respectful refusal.

3. Kids are curious
They are learning about the world, and when they look at you they are usually trying to learn. Have a simple answer to the "why are you in a wheelchair" ready. Like "I can't walk very well."

Usually the kids are not judging, just learning, so even though it can get tedious, try to react nicely because that will be one less future adult who panics at the sight of wheels.

4. Not everyone is comfortable around wheels.
Political correctness may have taught them not to say lots of things, but forgotten to tell them "it's a person, show politeness and consideration and all will be OK. If it turns out they are truly nasty, that is nothing to do with disability and everything to do with them being human." This often shows itself in stupid comments, avoidance, patronising comments, and/or addressing questions/comments to an able bodied companion rather than you. Do not take it personally or take offence - this makes them even scared-er, awkward-er and worse-er next time. If you think you can say something that will help them relax, do so.

5. Try not to exclude walkies from your conversations.
When out with a mix of wheelies and walkies, conversation and interaction is easier with people on your level - in this case, other wheelies. Although this is due to practicality rather than a disdain of walkies and is perfectly innocent and accidental, try to remember to direct some comments up to the walkies and include them otherwise they feel left out.

6. Do not be offended by 'I wish I had a chair' comments
It might fall under tip number 4. Or it might be due to achey legs, or due to a disability you hadn't noticed. Remember that time when you were disabled but pre-wheels, and you said to a wheelie about wishing you had a chair, meaning it literally and that you were seriously considering getting one, and they bit your head off? DON'T MAKE THE SAME MISTAKE!
Or it might be because they have seen how awesome your chair is and are feeling a teensy bit put out that you just nipped past them with such speed, grace and agility. In which case, grin and admit that there and then, you had the advantage.

7. Never yell at someone for parking in a 'blue badge' space.
There are thousands of invisible disabilities which give a valid reason to use those spaces. Shouting abuse at someone who has parked legitimately can cause lasting damage. It is not worth the risk. A polite, friendly 'Have you put your blue badge out?' is inoffensive for legitimate users and can be far more effective long term for illegal users than a stroppy/aggressive reaction - cos aggression makes people become defensive so they don't actually think about their action, just about that stroppy disabled person who was totally unreasonable.
Unless that person is a friend/relative who has nicked your badge. Then yell all you like.

8. Avoid the temptation to use the word 'crip' at every opportunity.
You might be comfortable with it, in some contexts prefer it to 'disabled', and quite like the fact that it is 'un-PC' but some people find it genuinely offensive. No hard and fast rules here - many people are OK with it, just try and be aware of reactions and don't keep using it if it seems to cause offence.

9. You do not hold exclusive rights to the lift/elevator.
Able bodied people have many reasons to use them too. Like 'because they decided to.' Just wait your turn and try not to run anyone over.

10. Don't bite people who pat you on the head.
Head-patting might be infuriating, patronising and insulting, but biting gets you arrested. Don't do it.

11. People are more likely to walk into you.
They just are. It's nothing personal, it's because when in a wheelchair you are usually below their natural line of sight and not everyone is good at noticing things in their peripheral vision.

12. Able bodied people are people first and foremost.
So if they behave in an unacceptable way remember that first and foremost they are a person, just like you. They make mistakes too. Treat them with the respect with which you would like to be treated.


  1. Yes! :-D Sometimes I need/use my chair and sometimes I use my crutch/es or even (quelle surpringly good day!) my walking stick and the differences in reaction and how I am spoken to/treated are notable but then again I don't meet the exact same people when out and about on wheels as I do when not. What does stay the exact same, however, is me and I try to make sure that I am as much of a positive ambassador for people with differences as I can be-mostly by showing people we are pretty much mostly the same (even when, no-especially when-I am faced with reactions that might seem based on fear and/or ignorance). If I can chip away a little at a person's prejudices of a person with a disability then the next person with a chair/disability/stick/whatever might get a better reaction. Ripples on a pond and all that jazz. *jazz hands* :-D

  2. Agreed with #7 we try to ask people politely if they have forgotten to put their badge out, something that I have done on a number of occasions! *Thanks brain fog*. That usually either reminds them to put it out and they thank us, makes them feel guilty about misusing the space and moves their car or on the rare occasions the person gets defensive and aggressive. It is not for us to judge whether someone should or shouldn't be using the space, if they have a badge then they are allowed to be there. It is up to the council to enforce it if there are people fraudulently using the badges not us. A little conundrum I'm in at the moment is family members who fraudulently use others badges, I've brought it up with them and we got in a big fight about it. I'm trying to convince them to get their own badge (as they do need one) and not use this other persons badge but its difficult. Not sure what to do there.

  3. Personally I find #1 very difficult, the majority of people mean well and ask a lot of reasonable questions but the whole social anxiety thing makes this overwhelming. I try to be nice and answer when I can but it isn't always possible. Not all of us can be that ambassador, not due to lack of wanting to.

    1. You don't have to be a spokesperson Jack - just be yourself :) Just going about your business, being visible and different and you is being an ambassador. Showing that different is OK. All I'm trying to say is that generally speaking biting peoples heads off for making a mistake doesn't help anyone.

  4. #11 is so true for me, at over 6 foot I just don't always notice wheelie people, small children, bollards and have a habit of falling over them. I don't mean to, I just expect people to be a "sensible" :P giant sized height like me.

  5. I'm sorry, Hannah, but I can't agree with Number 11, people don't walk around with their eyes aimed at the ceiling, they are, in the UK normally watching where they put their feet, with the amount of dog's mess on the pavements!

    I'm sorry you are basically saying I can't slap them round the knees with my crutches when they walk into me. Please, it does give me a good feeling seeing them in as much pain as I'm in!

  6. #7 I remember my late father having the Orange badge, when it was applied to registered vehicles only. Both parents had the blue badge, and remembering to bring the correct one in whichever car we used. Always the puzzle we had when Dad drove his own car /Mum was a passenger, which badge would we put up, usually had both up.. Dad fought his 'disabilities' all his life. Throwing away the leg braces after they left his legs a bloody mess...(His reply was always if you would like my disabilities you are most welcome to them).

  7. #11 Definitely struggle with this one myself! As a person with an unseen disabilty and the resulting treatment, meaning that my peripheral vision is considerably less, I am guilty of not seeing below a 'normal' line of sight! I walk into people whether they are able bodied or chair users without discrimination! (and apologise accordingly!).


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