3 disability etiquette rules you probably don’t know about

Everyone knows it’s rude to stare (one would hope so). And if you attended school at some point in the last 20 years, you were probably taught the other rude no-no’s regarding disability etiquette, like to never make someone‘s wheelchair your footrest, or never help someone with a disability without asking first. These are the basics of disability etiquette and I hope for your sake and mine, that you know them. Or else you’re causing me unneeded stress 😉

I have a problem however with the standard disability etiquette proffered at schools and corporations throughout America. It’s simply not enough, and the basic ten rules leave a lot of important, less-obvious, things out. Important things you should really know if being a non-douchebag to people with disabilities is important to you (and I hope it is!). And while my word isn’t the end all and be all, I’m an observant gimp. Let my last 17 years of paralysis serve you well. Here are 3 important disability etiquette rules that will take you from amateur land to the land of the super evolved.

3. Inviting us to your party?
Everyone loves the token disabled person at a rockin‘ shindig (jk). If you’ve invited people with mobility disabilities (wheelchair, walker, cane) to your get-together, remember that you also need to let them know about the accessibility part of the equation, either in the invite or in a separate email, just to let them know how you plan on getting them into the party. One never assumes. And while the disabled invitee could ask, proper etiquette deems that the host makes it their responsibility all guests are cared for.

2. Think before you try to be funny: While most people’s intentions are usually pure of heart, throwing out random ass comments to people in wheelchairs as they fly by is no way to make them feel good. While it may make YOU feel good to say, “Hey slow down or you may get a speeding ticket!” it’s something we’ve all heard before, and btw, IT IS NOT FUNNY. Really, not funny at all. No laugh.

1. Stop complimenting us for doing simple things:
Everyone loves a compliment (especially me), but being complimented for going to Target? Ummm…not so much. I didn’t go to physical rehab for months on end to have strangers give me two thumbs up for successfully making my daily errands. Condescending? I don’t even know where to begin.

  1. What really annoys me, is when people direct questions to others and completely occlude me from conversation. For example, when in Central Park with my aide or friends, strangers (usually visitors) will approach us and ask directions while never once looking in my direction. Now, being that I live directly across from the park, I know it from almost every entrance and landmark. But, since they direct their question to let’s say a Brooklynite, they’re met with blank stares….
    So, I wait a second or two and then ever so politely give them the most detailed of directions including where they might like to take a coffee or see some intimate part of the park not found in their guide book.

    Oh My, the girl in the wheelchair can talk???

  2. UG. I love how you kill them with kindness, Mikki! That’s about all you can do at the end of the day.

  3. The most ridiculous that’s ever happened to me was when I was at the mall and decided to take the stairs (I am an above knee amputee and use a prosthesis), there was this girl at the top of the stairs and she started cheering for me cause I was coming up the stairs!!, she did the whole “you can do it” “I am so proud of you” thing. I was embarrassed for her and flabbergasted, didn’t know what to do or say so I just walked past her.

    1. @Judy – Well, if something like that happens again, rush up to the person with a big smile and say “Good talking, honey! GOOD talking! You said so many words! I’m so proud of you!”

      She would get the point, because she was probably in special ed. From my experience, after you’ve pottied enough uncooperative teenagers, you develop an insane enthusiasm that takes years to wear down. (“You tee-teed IN the potty! Oh, good boy! Oh, thank you! Have a cookie! Have the whole bag!” etc)

  4. @Judy – OMG. I tell me like that off!

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