It’s not uncommon for me to be subjected to a variety of openly rude and sometimes idiotic questions, thanks to my more than visible disability. I live in the downtown area of a major metropolitan city and there is a wide array of “crazies” that litter my ‘hood. Some are your common drunkards, some are your “ghetto fabulous” wanna-be gang bangers who have a thing for blondes (wheelchair or no), some are your recent immigrants from Somalia, India, or Mexico and have never in their lives seen an attractive and seemingly “healthy” (then “why does she need a wheelchair?” they confusingly think to themselves) woman needing to use a wheelchair. All of these people, and even your mildly-educated suburbanite will accost me with inquiring questions, blatantly, as I meander my way down the street.
And I gotta admit something: I’m damn sick and tired of it. I believe there comes a time in every disabled person’s life when they reach a limit, a peak if you will, to how much they can handle when it comes to rude questions regarding their disability. And when they’ve reached their arbitrary “limit,” things start to get a bit crazy. You just don’t know what they’re gonna do or say the next time some idiot comes up to them with a rude question that they’ve probably already heard 678 times in their life.
I’m pretty sure I reached my limit a few years ago. It first noticed I finally had had enough, and couldn’t just answer politely anymore like I had been, when I was at my neighborhood gas station grabbing a few things during a midday junk-food binge. An overweight white dude wearing a too-small dirty white tee shirt (with his gut half-way hanging out), came up to me and asked me, point blank, “So what’s wrong with YOU?” I had had enough right there. I don’t know if I finally by the grace of God had accrued some kind of Hulk-like self-confidence, but I had the balls to reply to him – without hitting a miss – “Absolutely nothing. I’m just lazy and don’t like walking. What the F*** is wrong with you?!” I answered back; looking back at him dead in the eyes. It was so awesome. I felt like some super hero and something, and was ready to knock down the nearby stacked pile of Coke cases, just to show him he had messed with the wrong gimp.
Now to be fair, I want to say I fully realize that a lot of able-bodied people don’t MEAN to be rude, impolite, etc. “They just can’t help being inquisitive,” my family (and friends) remind me. But why is it that able-bodied folks feel it’s totally ok to ignore the usual social graces of politeness? I mean, I can’t go up to a lady that’s clearly 200lbs overweight and ask her what happened to her emotionally that she let herself get to that point? Or, I most definitely can’t go up to a guy who’s wearing a totally outdated suit and ask him why his fashion-sense is severely lacking? No. It’s considered totally rude and no one ever does it. But with the disabled, it’s a no-license-required, free for all shootout barrage of questions.
I’ve been asked and told everything from, “What’s wrong with you?” to “You’re too pretty to be in a wheelchair,” to “Do you need help?” (when I’m just sitting by a bench using my cell; apparently I look helpless 24/7), to “Slow down there, young lady. You might get a speeding ticket!” (which they laugh at for a minute or so, because they seriously think they’re the first person to think of that joke), to the classic, “Oh you poor thing.”
I’m extremely pleased with myself that I’ve gotten to the point in my “disability experience” that I can now combat openly rude questions in a fast and witty manner, usually knocking the unsuspecting idiot from their train of thought, giving me just enough time to zip away from them before they have time to assimilate any follow-up questions.