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10 Things to Never Say to a Person in a Wheelchair

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Spend a week or a decade in a wheelchair, chances are you’ll be asked some pretty crazy things. And I get why–people are uncomfortable around things that are different, especially wheelchairs. (Even more so if they don’t know anyone who uses a wheelchair on a personal level).

never-say-to-a-wheelchair-user

Photo credit: striatic / Foter.com / CC BY

Thoughtless ridiculous things tend to be said, and they can be offensive, even if you didn’t mean it. If you don’t want to make a fool of yourself the next time you’re around a wheelchair-user, read on for the top ten things to never dare say or ask to a wheelchair-user. Unless you don’t mind us running over your toes then speeding off with sh#!-eating grins on our faces.

1) Slow down there. You might get a speeding ticket.

We may be on four wheels, but please hold off on comparing us to other four-wheeled vehicles–such as a car (ah-hem). I’ve been in a wheelchair for 20 years and I’ve probably heard this line about 1,000 times from random strangers (my family and friends know better). When you do see a wheelchair user and have the urge to blurt the speeding ticket line, always remember these two things: It’s not funny and it’s not original.

2) What happened to you?

There are countless other ways to go about asking why someone uses a wheelchair other than asking them point blank, “What happened to you?” There is a polite way to ask this, but you really can’t go there unless you know them a little bit first. It’s really not any of your business, just like how you wouldn’t want your personal issues open for discussion with strangers either.

3) How fast does that thing go?

This is a question power-wheelchair users hear constantly. It’s a valid question, but a rather annoying one that really doesn’t matter. It’s small talk, like the weather, but it’s a small talk we’ve had way too many times. Let me save everyone from the trouble and share how fast power wheelchairs can go, so you don’t have to ask anymore: Top speed chairs can go between 6 to 8 miles an hour and most power wheelchairs go around 4 to 5 miles an hour tops about as fast as a bike ride.

4) Do you know so and so in a wheelchair too?

 Since a disability is one of the last minorities to be more understood by the mainstream, many still have some archaic ideas about it, and one is that they think we all must know each other. This world is not a village. Just like you would never ask an African American if they know your friend Michael (who is also African American), you should never ask this to someone who uses a wheelchair.

5) Is your significant other also in a wheelchair? 

A nurse at my doctor’s office actually asked me this one and it blew me away because it was such an old-fashioned idea (and she wasn’t that old). Asking this rediculous question will make you sound ancient.

While some of us end up dating and marrying another wheelchair-user, it only happens like 15% of the time, if that. So do yourself a favor and simply never ask this question, unless you don’t mind shoving your foot in your mouth real far.

6) I’d rather die than be disabled.

I was told this by a fellow student while in college, “I would rather die than be like you.” I don’t think she meant anything by it, but it’s certainly stayed with me all these years.  And by the way, maybe you do feel this way and you’re entitled to your feelings, but it’s probably never a good idea to share this with someone with a disability.

7) You’re good looking for being in a wheelchair.

Gussy yourself up real good, lose some weight, buy a new outfit, slick back your hair; however you make yourself look hot, chances are when you go out in public looking this way you may get some crazy quips from random walkers-by. And one of the most common, the backhanded compliment, “You’re too good looking to be in a wheelchair.”

If you really want to flatter someone in a wheelchair who has their head on straight, you’ll get nowhere with this compliment.  Instead, just tell them that they look great without the wheelchair qualifier. Remember, beauty can be found in any place, even in the seat of a wheelchair. If we can go to the moon, an attractive person in a wheelchair is possible.

8) Good for you.

Perhaps one of the most outrageously awful things you can say to someone who uses a wheelchair is “Good for you!” whenever we do something basic, like pick up dropped groceries at the grocery store or I dunno, go out in public.  Older folks do tend to say this more often than younger people, so it’s hard to get mad at a senior citizen when it happens, but when you do something as simple as drive your wheelchair up a ramp, and someone says as you whiz by, “Good for you,” you almost can’t help but want to punch them in the face.

9) Can I ask you a personal question?

No one in a wheelchair can go unscathed from this notorious preamble of a question.  And whenever I hear it, it reminds me of an episode from My Gimpy Life (a great web series starring Teal Sherer, an actress and paraplegic), who when getting money out an ATM, a guy in line went on to ask her if she could have sex by first asking if he could ask for a personal question. Again, a valid question, but one you shouldn’t ask a wheelchair-user unless you’re close.  We are not talking parrots on display for your amusement.

SEE ALSO: Top 10 Things that Annoy People in Wheelchairs

10) Hey speed racer. Can you pop a wheelie?

And lastly, there’s nothing like calling a full-grown adult who uses a wheelchair “speed racer.” We are beyond wanting to be named after cartoon characters. Sometimes we have to go faster when we’re late but please don’t call us speed racer as we roll by.

If only more people remembered we are still human with normal functioning brains (I know, hard to believe), then a list like this wouldn’t be so necessary. So pass it around, retweet, like it, (lick it if you can) and help change the world little by little by committing these faux pas to memory.

What things can you not stand people asking you?

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166 Comments

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About Tiffiny Carlson

Tiffiny Carlson is a writer and quadriplegic from Minneapolis. She has a C6 spinal cord injury from a diving accident when she was 14 years old. Writing and breaking stereotypes is her passion. She's been the SCI Life columnist for New Mobility magazine since 2003 and is the founder of the longtime disability site, BeautyAbility.com. Her work has also been featured in Penthouse, Playgirl and Nerve.com. And when she's not writing, Tiffiny loves to cook and practice adaptive yoga.


166 Responses

  1. avatar James says:

    I had a kid ask me once years ago if he could take a turn riding in my chair. His mother was mortified. I told him if he could figure out how to make me walk again I would give him the chair. He turned to his mom and said “I want to be a doctor” That made me feel awesome.

    • avatar Gina says:

      That is awesome, James!

    • avatar K says:

      I am imagining a world in which he is so intent on riding in your wheelchair that he never gives up the dream, becomes a doctor, specializes in mobility, cures the cause of your inability to walk, and then shows up at your house like “Done. Now gimme the chair.”

      Just my weird little flight of fancy.

    • avatar maryann says:

      That IS awesome! I’d love to know where that kid is today!! Need more like him.

    • avatar Chris Marsh says:

      Oh my God the med school tuition!

    • avatar Dieter C says:

      Thats awesome . i like it when kids ask questions. Had one ask me if I could walk and when I said no he said ‘thats not fair but when you go to heaven you will have wings’ he was 4

    • avatar John Hargrave says:

      People often ask me ”have you a licence for that thing?”.

      I have also been told ” you should walk about rather than sit in that ‘chair all day, it makes you lazy”.

      • avatar Lottaluv4buks (books) says:

        While going up on an elevator at a College in Chicago, Illinois a professor (yes I said professor) waited until the elevator opens, as everyone is walking and I am pushing myself off in my manual wheelchair, the professor says: “I don’t know why you just didn’t take the stairs.” Of course she was talking to me. Everyone on the elevator roared with laughter. I turned around to face them and said, “Well I’m glad you all found it funny but that was not funny at all to me.” The professor began apologizing profusely.

        • avatar IDEAMom says:

          Hmmm. Seems that when you lost the use of your legs, you also lost your sense of humor. That’s a shame, bcos the wc-users that are happy, well-adjusted, people take no offense what so ever to comments like that. They will tell you in heart-beat that having a sense of humor is what keeps their life positive, and they appreciate people that DONT tippy-toe around them, the issue, or treat them as if they shouldnt have a sense of humor because they have a disability. Life without the use of legs is difficult, life without a sense of humor is crippling.

          • avatar Jackie Cutter says:

            Well this is patronizing as hell.

          • avatar Teri Hargis-Pay says:

            WOW! IDEAmom…..GET A FREAKING CLUE! I don’t know and don’t care if you can or can’t personally relate to being in a wheelchair, but TRUST ME, anyone w a spinal injury WOULD LOVE TO BE PHYSICALLY ABLE to do something as simple as walk up stairs! You are inconsiderate, narsacistic, and flat out rude. May God bless you with a healthy life and family, may none of your children ever wind up in a wc and then get told to take the stairs! I can’t even believe the way you think, my dog learned to use a bell to signal to me when he needed to go to the bathroom and he was 12 yrs old. I hope you can learn a new trick at your age and keep your pitiful, ungrateful words to yourself. Then, to top it off you end with…..life without legs is difficult but a life without a sense of humor is crippling! GEEH NO PUN INTENDED HUH, we’ll ignorant people like you are crippled by your thinking. I’m sure Mother Teresa NEVER said something that insensitive to the “crippled humorless” children and adults she cared for. I hope you read this……I’m disgusted by you. I pray your children don’t learn your awful and insensitive thinking. You are a mess……I can’t believe how much your words have hurt, angered, and frustrated your words have made me. Ugh, all I can say is PLEASE,PLEASE people always use the ‘Golden Rule’ of do unto others as you would have done unto yourself. IDEAmom, you sound intelligent and decent, but you really made a bone-headed statement and I hope you figure it out soon!

        • avatar Elaine says:

          I am no longer in a wheelchair but I remember
          all the terrible things said to me, including now because I use crutches.
          Every time someone makes a stupid, morbid statement, such as above. I can not help but be afraid for the human race as a whole. Thank you for having the courage to say what you did, in that elevator.
          I went to Merrimack College, in Massachusetts,
          and the things that went on and were done while I was there! Totally outrageous! And, I was studying law for a paralegal degree!
          No job but I have the degree which they can not take
          from me!

          Merry Christmas! Elaine

      • avatar Ing-Marie Lagher Kågerstig says:

        A doctor said that to me, it was not funny, I was in a bad, sad mood that day. My husband take my wheelchair an said now we are going. I have change my doctor now and this one is very good.

  2. avatar Ashley says:

    Someone should make a small hand-out version of this that we could give to strangers when they ask, instead of being forced to answer the same question for the millionth time.

  3. avatar Johnathan says:

    Verry funny lol im a quad but im not shy n my friends know a lot about me n my injury. Im rambunctious n do a lot by my self but pple have stoped asking because i go out of my way to make them feel silly lol. That. Was good reading tho

  4. Belly-achingly, laugh aloud. I can so relate to each and every one of these comments! At some stage in my (disabled) life, I’ve been asked at least one of these questions. Grrrrr!!!!

  5. avatar Caroline says:

    What is wrong with you?

    You can’t ride your trike on the pavement?

    Have you seen the state of the roads I’d be all over the roads avoiding the potholes

    • avatar amy says:

      i’ve had the what’s wrong with you comment,

      the surprising thing for me, in my situation is people want to know what happened to me to cause me to need a sling, but disregard the wheelchair, but i get the opposite as well, where people like caregivers who i’ve seen several times will suddenly ask what i did to my arm, and i reply that it’s been like this the whole time they’ve known me

  6. avatar stuart says:

    People still say this crap? Oh, for crying out loud, when will they grow up?

    • avatar stuart says:

      By which I mean the comments in the list, not the writer of the article!

    • avatar Elaine says:

      That is not the problem. It is a lack of intelligence and
      education. Strange as it may sound. We are the
      educators. There are more disabled person(s)
      in the world than ever before. This type
      of behavior can not be tolerated in an alleged,
      advanced society.
      Elaine

  7. avatar David Odell says:

    My spouse uses a wheelchair to get around. Sometimes people will ask me “what’s wrong with your wife”. I tell them nothing. They get the point.

    • avatar Gina says:

      That is perfect, Dave. I have a brain injury and used to be in a group home where we rode around in lift vans. When people asked me, “What’s wrong with you?”, I’d say, “Nothing, why? What have you heard?”

      • avatar Brian Caccianiga says:

        lol, too good Gina, I’m a gonna work on remembering that. lolol

      • avatar Lottaluv4buks (books) says:

        That is a good one Gina. I am always looking for witty comebacks for people to get it from me only once so that they can leave others like me alone. I will certainly be using yours when I am not in the mood for nosy people wanting to make small talk.

      • avatar amyamy says:

        the last time someone asked me this, i almost said, what’s wrong with YOU?

      • avatar Tiara says:

        love it! I’ve been in a wheelchair for 5 years due to a TBI , and I love all these insights and Gina good come back! made me smile!

    • avatar Christine Archer says:

      My four year old is in a wheelchair and when people ask me what’s wrong with him, I reply with “he can’t walk”. I also had an older lady come over to us at the store and say, “he’s not a cripple, is he?” CRIPPLE…really lady OMG!!!!

      • avatar amber says:

        I have people come up to me and my four year old son and ask, “where can I get an awesome stroller like that” all I can think to say is, you can’t, its a wheelchair. Its tiresome to hear it 2-3 times a day. That and “how do you cope?”

  8. avatar Danny Higgins says:

    I’m 19 years of age and have been a wheelchair user all my life, these 10 things dontt really matter to me, best thing you can do is laugh and get on with it, no time for bein sympathetic, disabled or not, we are still equally human, if you can make a joke about yourself being disabled then its easier and more comfortable for people to get on with you without feeling awkward, so these 10 things not to say to a person in a wheelchair, if the disabled person is comfortable with their disability then why not make a joke out of it?

    • avatar Mike carpenter says:

      Hi Danny, nice post. Ive been in a chair since 1995 at age 34′ transverse Mylitus . It was a 7 yr old that said the most adult thing.. He asked me..mike do you know how to walk? Not what’s wrong? Not why? The chair didn’t matter to him. I told him..Oscar, my legs know how to walk but my brain won’t let it. Then he laid his hand on my let and began to pray for me.. A seven year old!!! Go figure!

    • avatar Elizabeth says:

      Hey Danny,
      I am in a similar situation (20 years old, been in a power chair since age 3), and I feel the same way. Although I don’t usually laugh about my disability, I do answer any questions people have. Especially with children, I may be the first person they’ve met, maybe even seen, in a chair, and I don’t want them to think we are grouchy. I recognize that as part of a visible minority, in a sense, I am a spokeswoman for all people in wheelchairs. Although, I will admit, hearing person after person warns me not to speed does get frustrating at times (like when I’m really not going all that fast).

    • avatar IDEAMom says:

      Danny, I was reading some of the comment/complaints above & just had to post a reply, so I did. Then I read your’s, right on! Hope you see the comment above that I posted, its a reply to something that someone “…luv4buks (books) wrote, & also intened for the one below that.
      So kudos to you, your life will be better for it!

  9. avatar Lillian says:

    I am sorry for your disability,but I feel you have a bit of a negative attitude.I too have a mobility problem,but I feel that all the comments that annoy you are just people trying to communicate with you. Would you rather be ignored, because I have heard people with a handicap (or do you prefer the term challenge) complain about that too. If you look for a slight in something, you will usually find it.

    • I love this article. For those who may think being comfortable with our disability should mean we should joke about it and/or not be annoyed by these comments, I disagree to an extent. I joke about my disability sometimes. But I never joke about it to make others comfortable around me. It’s 2013. If someone is not comfortable talking with or being around someone with a disability, why should we feel obligated to make them comfortable? Furthermore, several of the “10 things” on this list demean and/or infantilize adults with disabilities. We live life in much the same way as people without disabilities. I would prefer someone not speak to me before they say most of what is on this list. Overall, this was well written and entertaining to read!

    • avatar Katie says:

      I understand where you are coming from (people trying to communicate) but then why don’t random strangers try and make small talk to the those WITHOUT disabilites? I am not disabled and strangers don’t randomly come up to me to ask me stuff. But a few summers ago when I was on crutches after surgery on my foot, people wouldn’t stop asking me what happened to me! My medical issues are really noones business but mine. Maybe they were trying to start a conversation with me, but it just comes off as nosy and rude. Wanna talk to strangers? Great! Ask them where they got they cute top or that awesome purse? Or just ask someone how their day is going.

      • avatar Jo says:

        Exactly Katie. If that was the case, wouldn’t people walk up to me and randomly ask me why I’m fat just to make small talk? Or, Hey, why are you bald? Or Why are you missing a few teeth? Or anything at all regarding their bodies. That is a very personal thing that doesn’t need to be pointed out in public by strangers. It’s called common sense and being polite and like Katies said, NONE. OF. THEIR. BUSINESS.

        • avatar Mara says:

          Jo,

          People *do* ask me why I’m fat. Usually they stare, giggle and point at me. Then they give their friend an elbow in the side so they can do the staring thing.

          Even though I’m disabled and use a scooter at times, there’s a difference between being on a mobility device and being fat. It’s rare to find a person who blames the wheelchair user for their own condition.

          Fat people are seen as lazy, ugly, stupid and asexual. We are told by doctors that the only thing we need to do is lose weight and all our medical problems would disappear. We are blamed for being fat and we are punished for it.

          I’m actually finding that I get less flak for being fat when I’m on my scooter. There’s a momentary disconnect – “Wait, was she fat before she got hurt or did being on a scooter make her fat?”

          Yes and yes. And it’s none of your business.

          • avatar cheryl says:

            im a paraplegic 2004 I was thin and beautiful when it happened but in the past two years I have become fat and not so attractive, I have people looking at me, like the only reason im in this chair is because im fat and I just want to yell at them!

      • avatar IDEAMom says:

        dumbass, its because of & called… compassion! “cute top or that awesome purse?”—seriously? Thats shallow & patronizing. Just FYI, most people with disabilities live a deeper life than that.

      • avatar Tiara says:

        good point! before my accident the only time strangers came up to me and just started talking to me was when they were either asking for money or trying to hit on me! now it’s everyone asking generally these 10 things on this list! I have had someone say :”your too pretty to be in a wheelchair” just don’t talk to me if your not going to be generally nice!

    • avatar Lynn says:

      “I am sorry for your disability, but I feel you have a bit of a negative attitude.”

      Seriously?? This is exactly the kind of patronizing attitude that people with disabilities have to deal with all the time. They are expected to conform to the mythology of the tragic-but-heroic person who a) has had some misfortune for which others need to be “sorry” and b) had better be positive and inspiring about it, or the previously-sympathetic will be released from their contract and will turn on them and rebuke them for being “bitter” and having a “bad attitude.” Sorry to disagree (and, um, sorry for your “mobility impairment”…?), but this is absolute, utter nonsense.

      People have a right to demand respect and courtesy. Just because people are well-intentioned doesn’t mean that their remarks don’t spring from harmful and degrading misconceptions about a group of people. Do you expect members of racial minorities to put up with racist language and attitudes without protest? And… would they rather be ignored? Sure, why not? As an able-bodied person, I am ignored in public all the time, and I daresay I would miss that quite a bit if a new disability were to attract the kind of attention described in this (very good-natured and accurate) piece!

    • avatar john says:

      A way negative attitude. People are trying to be kind, trying to show support for the most part. The personal sex question is wrong. that is lack of manners.
      There are circumstances where I would ask a black person if they know another black person.”Never” ask is wrong. If you don’t ask them because they are black.. is that racist? I have 3 friends who went to a Spinal cord injury rehab center in Atlanta. Can I ask them if they know each other? is that ok/? they may have been there at the same time.

      • avatar David says:

        John, I am white. If you are white, I’d like to ask you if you know some other white people. (My point is that it is part of the racism in the U.S. to let whiteness be unspoken of, because it is the dominant culture, but to readily point out non-whiteness, which happens to be the world majority.) Ableism (if that is a word) works the same way.

      • avatar David says:

        Do you know Jeff, the white guy who walks? vs. Do you know Jeff, the black guy in a wheelchair? I think we’re doing a great job getting rid of the different forms of oppression. This stuff is more subtle. What’s important to me is that we have good connections in spite of our differences.

    • avatar Jeanette says:

      You ask if I’d rather be ignored than to be asked stupid questions. Well, of course I’d rather be ignored. Actually, I want to be encountered the same as a stranger would encounter any able-bodied stranger–with silence. I don’t see that as “ignoring”, I see that as just treating me the same as anyone else. When an able-bodied person is in Walmart, does he/she walk up to another able-bodied person and start asking them stupid (or any) questions? No. So why is it any different when they encounter me in Walmart, just because I’m in a wheelchair? Also, if you do not see (and point out) the “slight” in some things, there will never be any positive changes.

      • avatar IDEAMom says:

        “When an able-bodied person is in Walmart, does he/she walk up to another able-bodies person & start asking them stupid, or any questions? No” ——
        Uhhh, “yes, all the time!” Actually have made many friends & contacts in Walmart & elsewhere with complete strangers, disabled & not, just by striking up a conversation, whether about their disability, our disability, or not disability related at all & just about a product or experience. Some people are just better at it than others, why let an awkward comment or question turn something negative, rather than turning it into a positive experience for both?? What would be the point of taking offense, if you are capable of helping someone to have better knowledge & understanding?

      • avatar Tiara says:

        like I said I’d rather be ignored!

    • avatar Elaine says:

      Because their statements are offensive and ignorant just
      to name a few feeling(s). We have a right to our feelings
      and have an obligation to straighten the record; as it were
      but we are not here for others’ entertainment or
      ignorant statements.
      I hope that this makes some sense.
      Elaine

  10. avatar Tiffiny says:

    Lillian, how long have you been in a chair? Perhaps you don’t understand how these comments wear on us after decades. It’s people like you who say they’re just trying to be nice that allows comments like this to still happen,

    And btw, I would rather be ignored than be subjected to rude comments.

  11. avatar dave says:

    “Slow down there…” troubles you? What gives you the right to travel fast on a sidewalk or down a hall? If I was on a skate board or bike and passing someone at a good clip on the sidewalk or in hallway, I’d expect to be collared. The same should happen to “oh poor you”. Maybe you ARE going to fast. Maybe your low center of gravity makes you oblivious. Maybe the fact that you’re below everyone’s usual sight plain makes you a danger. If you want to be viewed as equal, assume equal awareness of others, too.

    • avatar Bob says:

      Actually, I sort of agree with Dave. Sometimes people in motorized wheelchairs, like cyclists, go too fast for the sidewalk.

    • avatar Julia says:

      hi dave-

      i think the author is referring to when people say “slow down there” to a wheelchair-user when they are moving at a normal/ safe pace. as a wheelchair-user, this is a comment i get from mostly older people who are trying to make a joke. i agree that if a wheelchair-user is going dangerously fast they should be treated like just like anyone else, but the point is no one would say “slow down there” to someone who is safely walking along.

      as for being oblivious to how fast we’re going, i can assure you we know exactly how we’re moving in comparison to those around us. i don’t think a lower center of gravity affects your perception of speed, since it’s only about a 2-3 feet difference. and if someone doesn’t notice a wheelchair while walking, i think the danger lies with the person who’s walking.

      best,
      julia

      • I think you’re on target, Julia. Smarty pants comments like “slow down” are really out of line when strangers have the nerve to say such stuff to people who are moving slowly. I get similarly ticked when total strangers say “Hi Speedy” to my elderly mother when she’s walking very slowly with her walker. Some day I hope I’m ticked enough to reply: “Are you rude for a living, or is it just a hobby?”

      • avatar Brian Caccianiga says:

        Hi Julia, I’m a bit with Dave on this. I truly believe that even though it appears that walkkers can see us approaching, I’m not sure that they actually do. As Dace says, we are below their usual sight plane. Believe it or not. Therefore when they actually do see us, they get quite a fright, as it appears to them that we came out of nowhere.

      • avatar Tiara says:

        absolutely Julia

    • avatar Rachel says:

      Yes. When I’m running my service dog outside and a guy yells that from across the street and NOBODY ELSE is around? Yea, it gets on my nerves.

    • avatar Rachel says:

      With my service dog: “he’s a good buddy, isn’t he?” It’s like he’s the only thing that will give me friendship?

      “Isn’t sitting like that uncomfortable?”

      Anything that sounds like I’m a four-year old annoys the H-E-double-hockysticks outa me.

      That being said, the “personal questions” don’t always bother me. I’d rather people ask than make up wrong assumptions.

    • avatar Elizabeth says:

      Dave, I agree with you that if someone in a wheelchair is going really fast (about 7 or 8 mph) they should not be offended by a “slow down” remark. However, I think you misunderstand how fast “too fast” is. My chair tops out at around 5 mph, and I rarely go full throttle. If I do go as fast as possible, it is the equivalent of a slow jog/fast walk (depending on the person) or a VERY slow bike ride (so slow an unskilled rider could tip over). How do I know this? I have walked with my dad as he speedwalks, and he will occasionally have to jog a few step if he starts to lag behind. A friend and I also went through town as she rode her bike, and every now and then she would have to put her foot down to balance (in this case, I felt like the slow one).

      I must also note my personal guidelines for “speeding.”
      WHY
      If I feel I am running late, in a rush, or feeling really happy. The first to are equivalent to someone running late to class and jogging (see above) to get there on time. Similarly, if I sense the weather is about to turn nasty (oh, the joys of college!) I will go faster to beat the rain (the same holds if it is really cold!). If I am happy, I do go faster because it is my version of skipping (you try and skip with a 350 lb weight on).

      WHEN
      1. When I am in an environment I am really familiar with. If I am in a strange place, I am more likely to be caught by surprises (bumps, turns, support poles)
      2. When the path is relatively clear. Say I’m at school and there are two people one the sidewalk for the next 75 yards and I have a clear view of “intersection.” The sidewalk is practically empty and until I approach the other people, there is no reason for me not to go slowly.
      3. If I am alone. I will not leave a friend behind (too far) unless I am REALLY late or the weather is REALLY yucky.

      If any of these conditions changes, I slow down. And besides, if someone on a bike blows past a pedestrian on the sidewalk, the pedestrian rarely yells out “slow down!” They tend to glare and mutter.

    • avatar Simmo says:

      Dave, if you can’t see someone a foot or two lower than yourself (or someone who is ‘oblivious’ to use your word) then it’s time you paid a visit to the optometrist because your peripheral vision is non-existent.

      And Julia is right, if I was going down a hill like a bat out of hell, then the ‘slow down speedy’ comment would be appropriate. However, if I’m just moving at walking speed, then the comment is inane and condescending.

    • avatar Brian Caccianiga says:

      Crikey, your comments have certainly stirred up the response lines Dave. Lights flashing everywhere. I am inclined to agree with most of what you say. Usually get the same reactions you are getting as well. The difference between two walkers passing and bumping each other on a footpath and a wheelchair user bumping into someone. Two walkers say sorry and keep going. With wheelchair user the walker always gets hurt, and far too many wheelchair users ride off with the attitude “Well you should have been watching”.
      I am a loud campaigner that people who use wheelchairs need to understand that we are taking a motorised weapon onto the very last piece of ground that walkers see as a safety zone. It’s called the footpath. I ride my chair appreciating that ambulant people are willing to take the risk of injury and let me share the footpaths with them

      • avatar Simmo says:

        Or to put it another way, I have no problem seeing a cat or small dog in front of me and they’re about as short compared to me as I am to a walker, and they’re a lot smaller too.

      • avatar RB says:

        If you are going through a crowded/tight space at top speed, yeah the slow down may be warranted, but that is just bad judgement on the wheelchair user. I get the slow down comment about once a week from a coworker. 90% of the time it is somebody 20+ feet behind me, and nobody else in any direction. Even if I were to stop they would have at least a few seconds to move around me.

    • avatar Beep says:

      I hear “someone’s going to give you a speeding ticket!” much more often than “slow down”, even though I generally go as fast (but only as fast) as I judge others’ comfort, traffic, and conditions of the path will bear. I’ve never run into anyone at speed in 20 years, and I’ve only gently nudged others in close quarters maybe half a dozen times.

      I tend to think the speeding ticket comment and another I hear regularly, “Do you have a license for that thing?” more come from an unconscious anxiety that the person with a disability isn’t capable of independence and needs to be overseen by an authority figure than worry about the potential for harm from unsafe wheelchair use. These comments are made to me no matter how safely and sedately I’m driving.

  12. avatar Shavonne says:

    The speeding ticket thing has never bothered me I actually find it pretty funny usually. The looking good for being in a chair thing though always bugs the heck out of me I know i’m not thin because exercise is a pain but I’m not an elephant either. I’ve also been lucky to never get the i’d rather die than be disabled stuff that would make me really angry to hear because there are times I wish I wasn’t disabled but they are very few

  13. avatar Vagabond says:

    I think many of these are conditional. An example is #1: I am a University student in an electric wheelchair (sometimes manual). I am very personable and have formed several casual friendships with campus police. When I’m flying by in a hurry these friends will yell “slow it down or i’ll give you a ticket.” It makes me smile and chuckle because its my friend whose job is at times to give out speeding tickets basically saying hi. In this case, its not an annoyance.

  14. avatar Ben Roberts says:

    I get ALL of these, DAILY.

    As well as “Being in a Wheelchair looks so cool – can you run over my foot and break it so I can try it too?!”

  15. avatar Melinda says:

    What you need to write is 10 great comebacks to the questions people ask. The questions I’ve been getting lately is, “How much did that wheelchair cost. I’m thinking of buying one.” They about hit the floor when I tell them $26,000. Thank goodness for good medical insurance.

  16. avatar Muriel says:

    Lillian, I think what Tiffany is saying is more along the lines of she’d prefer to have a meaningful conversation with people than waste time with the inane remarks we hear over and over. Not everyone chooses to suffer fools gladly. This kind of post isn’t negative. It helps people become more sensitive about what they say.

    • avatar Alex says:

      A lot of people (including me, initially) are focusing so much on the words that they’re missing the meaning. The problem is the patronization: those phrases are just some of the most common outward manifestation of it. It doesn’t matter whether someone is trying to be helpful or nice or make conversation- when they’re doing so in a way that infantilizes those they’re talking to, they need to be corrected. It’s that simple.

      Honestly, my initial reaction to several of the comments (not the main article) was “Really?! You have to actively *try* to be insulted by that!” And if the complaint was a one-off comment, I still think that would be true. What is missing from that assessment, however, is context. These aren’t one-off comments. They happen daily, often multiple times a day. And even when the comments are missing, the patronization is still typically making itself known in other ways.
      Instead of looking for instances in which these comments would be okay or deciding when/why differently-abled people should or shouldn’t be upset by them, try imagining what it would be like to constantly be subjected to insulting comments, comments that compare you to toddlers or even non-human *objects*. What would it be like for most people to never even *see* you?

    • avatar Alex says:

      Also, sorry for commenting as a reply to you Muriel. I couldn’t find a way to comment without it being a “reply” to someone else’s comment!

  17. avatar Annette says:

    I am a nurse. When my youngest daughter was born she had hip displasia and had to be put in a brace. As I watched the orthopedist fit her tiny body into it I cried my eyes out as if it was the end of the world. Then I walked back into the waiting room at CHOP and looked around. I felt like an ass. My daughter would have to wear this brace for 6 months until her hips were fully developed.. These kids in wheelchairs and some in spinal braces may never walk. I have a good friend that I’ve known since I was a kid who has been in a whellchair since his early 20′s. I cant imagine saying any of these things to him. Even when I hold the door for him at the store, I fear that I may be offending him. He is a great guy. I can’t imagine what people are thinking who say these things.

    • avatar Layne Mangum says:

      Most are trying to be nice and are more uncomfortable trying to reach out than you are offended.

      Your own discomfort holding a door for someone should be speaking volumes to you. BE NICE! If your nice and you’re misunderstood, be polite when chastised.

      More important, if someone says something offensive, realize that they’re trying to be nice. BE NICE BACK!

      For each person we get snarky with, there are 20 people that won’t give us a chance at all. WE NEED TO BE THE EXAMPLES OF HOW WE WANT THE REST TO BE TREATED! If we’re snarky, we’ll be lonely.

      • avatar Mary says:

        [More important, if someone says something offensive, realize that they’re trying to be nice. BE NICE BACK!]

        Seriously, Layne? It’s my job to figure this out?!? I think not. That’s like telling me the day I became disabled it also became my responsibility to be “nice” to everyone, no matter what the circumstance.

        I have always been snarky. It’s part of my charm. ;-) I’m not lonely.

        [WE NEED TO BE THE EXAMPLES OF HOW WE WANT THE REST TO BE TREATED!]

        Is that the “royal” we? No one gets to have it both ways. Please, don’t tell me to accept rude treatment and be a shining example to others. It’s condescending, demeaning and unrealistic.

  18. avatar Devin says:

    “What did you do to yourself?” I actually had a guy ask me that once. Because clearly I must be personally responsible for having to use a wheelchair.
    I also like “You drink?” or “You watch sports?”

  19. avatar Debbie says:

    Great article. I can just imagine how grinding it could become to hear these daft comments time after time.

  20. avatar Toria says:

    Everybody in a wheelchair, disabled, fat, tall, small, blind etc will get the silly harmless comments, will also get the hurtful nasty comments and the young children saying things. It’s life best just to deal with them as you find fit, if you can laugh it off , great, if you choose to ignore it also great. This will never change, if your different in anyway from what that one person thinks is the norm to them you will be subjected to some form of abuse harmless or otherwise. My son and I get it all the time and do you know what, I have done the protective mother, I have done the angry “you should grow up” I have not yet got to the ignore stage but I am hoping one day I may. Xx

  21. avatar Anthony says:

    If I’m remembering my 4th grade report right (which I may not be) President Eisenhower once said he’d rather die than be crippled. Remember thinking even then it didn’t seem to be a wise statement for a politcian to make. People will never surprise me with the amount of stupidity and ignorance that comes out of their mouths.

  22. avatar Gina says:

    I have a disability. I’m brain injured. Yes, people can be idiots. Sometimes, we all say stupid things. I find that if I let one of these stupid things bother me, it’ll ruin my day. I just give a non-committal response and move on. “Never thought about it like that before.” “That’s a thought.” “Interesting idea” The only person we can control is ourselves, so let’s all move forward!

    • avatar Layne Mangum says:

      From one TBI to another, keep on truckin baby!

      Unfortunately, my TBI is invisible to those that don’t know me. So when the comments come, they come from complete ignorance to the situation. I can’t hold someone responsible if they don’t know. Sometimes I explain, most of the time I don’t. But offense is not an option for me … unless offense is intended.

  23. avatar Freakybeaky says:

    6 & 7 are pretty bad. The rest of these mainly strike me as at worst mildly annoying or easily dealt with.

    Want to know the #1 thing never to do around a wheelchair user? Don’t walk on eggshells. Just be polite and respectful. Not every PWD would like to punch you or crush your toes for every perceived slight.

    And NO WAY is asking me if I know so-and-so the same as walking up to some random African-American and asking if they know Chris Rock. Where I live it’s not even an unreasonable question – I just might know them.

    (Full-time power chair user in case you are wondering.)

    • avatar Layne Mangum says:

      This is the correct attitude! Articles like this create eggshells around the disabled.

      • avatar Sarah says:

        Um, no they don’t… It’s not an all or nothing situation. Being told not to say these things hasn’t made me think “I better not say anything to wheelchair users in case they get offended”. It’s just made me more aware of the difficulties faced by people who use wheelchairs and how important it is to think before you speak…

        To be honest, the most negative things I’ve read on this thread have been your comments.

  24. avatar Stewart Caswell says:

    “By the end of the decade, there will be attractive people in wheelchairs.” —JFK, 1962

  25. avatar Meg says:

    My mom has had mobility issues all her life and is now on a scooter most of the time. She has had all these and then some said to her. The worst thing someone has said to her is “I thought I had it bad until I saw you.” when she was loading her scooter into the car. This lady appeared to have had a stroke, and my mom quickly excused the comment, but we still laugh about it when my mom is having a bad day.

  26. Marvelous article. There’s a short video on U-tube about the rude things people say to folks who use wheelchairs. Like this article, it really drives home the point about how insensitive and rude many strangers can be.

  27. avatar Bill Hyatt says:

    Sometimes when I’m going through a double door someone will open the door for me and then I try to hold the second door open for them and they really get freaked out. The thing is, with my power chair it’s probably easier for me to open the door than for them. Usually when someone opens a door I just smile and say thank you but sometimes I just can’t help myself.

  28. avatar Arn says:

    I’m in my 20s (sometimes mistaken for a high schooler) and one of the things that people always say to me is, “Aren’t you a little young to need a wheelchair?” or a variant of that.

    I know a cute 7-year-old girl with spina bifida who uses a wheelchair. I’d love to see what people would think of THAT.

  29. avatar Craig says:

    As a seven year old I was paralyzed with polio. My scariest scenario was becoming a bitter old man in a wheelchair. You sir are well on your way. Get over yourself.

  30. avatar Amy says:

    I’ve never asked any of these questions, but I don’t know what to say. My cousin, who is quadriplegic, told me the worst thing for him was having people look away or ignore him. I make eye contact and smile, as I do with anyone, but it can be awkward. I feel like I’m doing the “sympathy smile” even though I’m not.

  31. avatar Tonya Nevaeh says:

    My father was a victim of the last big polio epidemic of 1954. He was 24 at the time and paralyzed from the armpits down. I am certain he heard these statements and many more numerous times over the years yet was never upset about them he would simply respond to them in the fashion they were spoken be it curiosity, humor or interest etc.He respected the fact very few comments were made in an attempt to belittle him. Many are by those who go out of their way to strike up a conversation by others willing to accept him as a equal human being. The chair is just a natural conversation piece no different than if one was wearing an Top Hat, or another unusual article of clothing. So you didn’t have a choice of ‘wearing’ this unique item, you do however have a choice on how you respond to ‘wearing’ it. Oh all the things people could be saying to you I find the selection of items pointed out in this article so petty it didn’t deserve being printed. My father never for a second ever felt sorry for himself. He was thankful to be alive and never let his handicap stop him from living a full and happy life. If you can’t handle the reality of human contact, stay home and stop whining. I found the comment on doing wheelies rather funny as daddy’s chair was a toy in our home. 6 kids trying to best the other in how far we could do a wheelie! I’m only 5’1″ and get short jokes and comments all the time…there is nothing I can do to change my reality but I’m not online complaining about it. I as my father did simply respond in kind with humor or information. If you seriously can’t deal with what you deem inappropriate comments – you have the perfect format to pronounce it…hang a sign across the back of your chair listing the questions and comments you find offensive or to repetitive! Chances are no one will talk to you then for you’ll be seen for your pettiness not you chair! People like you will have problems with others out without the chair….so stop using it as your crutch!

  32. avatar P Grant says:

    I have been siting for 26 yrs. I have heard most of those at one time or another. I think they are funny, most of the time. I believe that your reaction to these and any other personal questions, depends on your attitude. I have been called a smart ass and yes I am. I believe that a good comeback may teach someone a lesson. Maybe next time they will think before they ask a stupid question. I am comfortable with who I am. My “disability” has nothing to do with that. Everybody has things that make them uncomfortable, it is not my job to make someone comfortable. But, I can have fun with it.

  33. avatar Kate says:

    When I was a new Mom people would stop me and say,” Is that YOUR child?” lol Depending on my mood I would answer, “Yes, and I enjoy having sex too!” lol

  34. avatar Adrian Dennis says:

    I am not a wheelchair user (yet) but work with many who are, and have heard many of these 10 comments. As someone who is able to walk but has needed sticks for a great many years, the most annoying comments I get all the time from casual friends and colleagues is “Oh, why are you still using walking sticks?”, I am surprised to see you still limping/struggling to walk” or “haven’t you recovered yet?”. It wouldn’t be so annoying but I had told all of them dozens of times that it is a permanent condition and my mobility will only get worse. Clearly nobody listens or choses to understand.

  35. avatar Chris Parrish says:

    You have to understand that most people are socially retarded.

    • avatar Jolene says:

      retarded? Not cool. Ironic as well. Learn to be more socially appropriate.

      • avatar tara says:

        doctors do use the term “socially retarded” for people with normal IQs who haven’t good social habits. They do not call the developmentally disabled “Retarded” anymore. that’s a no-no.

  36. avatar Princess Sophia says:

    Hey, I am a wheelchair user myself. I was born with Spina Bifida. While I understand your frustration with comments that people give you, I feel like you come across as negative. I liked the article you wrote, it was very articulate.

    You are a very good writer. Having a blog myself, I admire your courage to speak out. However, I have learned through having my own blog that some people don’t feel the same way you do.

    Keep writing, but just be cautious of the “wording” in your posts. You are entitled to your opinion and you should express it. Don’t listen to haters who try to put you down. Good post.

  37. avatar Jolene says:

    My son is disabled, not in a wheelchair but sometimes when his seizures get really bad I push him in an adaptive stroller (he has a rare type that can also affect his motor skills when not seizing). I’ve had my share of inappropriate questions including “what’s wrong with him?” Nothing, he’s wonderful, but I can tell you what’s wrong with you. Someday, when I am uber grouchy, I might actually say that.

  38. avatar Kate Scarpero says:

    One of my best friends has a rare degenerative disorder and uses a power chair for mobility. I was with her recently at a restaurant and the manager came up to me asking Me about her wheelchair lift on her van. That really made her angry- especially when she drove to the placeholders! I looked at the manager and told her to talk to my friend. Sucks that people think that someone is stupid or mute if they are in a wheelchair.

  39. avatar Merlin broadbent says:

    I have Spina bifida it dosent have me. I had this young girl come up ot me she looked me in the eyes point blank, and told me that I was amazing just the way I am. Before she left I was in tears, what an eye-opening experience it was to have someone I didn’t know come up and say that. She never asked me why are you in that chair. The world would be a better place only if we had more ppl like her.

  40. avatar Layne Mangum says:

    This may be the most troubling thing I have ever read. I read all 10. For me, all but #5, #6, and #7 are appropriate things to say particularly in context. I had to ask myself, why would I be annoyed at any of these simple questions?

    I have the luxury of living in both worlds. I walk. I can even (almost) run. I also use a wheelchair. Because I live in both worlds, I have a different perspective than most “walkers”.

    Like it or not, as awesome as you are, you’re an oddity. You’re different from the norm of society. To be blunt, you’re abnormal. You use wheels, braces, or crutches for your normal mode of transportation. Walkers don’t. You may have a shape to your body that seems odd and painful. Because of this, you get noticed. You get stared at. You have kids say things to you that make their parents cringe.

    Why do parents cringe? Because we live in a world that doesn’t value the simplicity of children. Truth is, people see you (us) and they wonder. They don’t wonder a single thing. They wonder a big list of things. But, unlike an innocent child, an adult will say nothing or say something uncomfortable. They don’t say it to be rude. They’re actually trying to be nice.

    If the opinions expressed in this article are how you prefer it, my advice is to stay out of the public eye. If you want to be accepted as normal, you have to allow normal society to fit you into their concept of normal. Until you do, you’ll always be different.

    This article does nothing more than to make the able bodied be more afraid to approach you. Here’s the thing. Because I live in both worlds, I have said, and been told or asked many of these same things. I welcome the dialog. (I never need worry about being told I’m good looking for someone in a wheelchair … but I can hope!)

    I see people stare when I’m in my chair and I approach them, especially the kids. If we can normalize ourselves with every kid in the world, we will be normal to every adult in the world when they all grow up.

    This article, in my opinion, sinks the disabled people wanting acceptance in the world world, deeper into the abnormal hole that we’re all trying to get out of.

    As I read the article, I actually started wondering if I should talk to disabled people … and I LIVE IN THE DISABLED WORLD! Because I can walk, I now have a subconscious fear of approaching someone disabled.

    Having said all that, I will agree that some people are rude and ask offensive questions. My advice is to please be polite. Trust me when I say that their level of discomfort asking a question is probably greater than the offense that you take. Also remember, they’re actually trying to be nice and fit you into their “normal” world.

    • avatar Simmo says:

      Layne, IMHO the great MAJORITY of people wouldn’t and don’t ask most of the 10 questions in Tiffiny’s article. Rather they treat you like anybody else and they talk with you about ‘everyday’ things that we all talk about. Therefore I think the minority, as I define them, are the ones with the problem.

      For example, when lifting my chair into the car (something I’ve only done about 30,000 times before) I am often asked, ‘do you need any help’. I DO politely refuse the first time and the second but if they get up to asking four times (which I’ve had on several occasions) then sorry, that’s gone way beyond ‘being nice’, rather that indicates that they are not listening to me, and that Layne is rude.

      It’s not hard to tell the difference between someone who is ‘trying’ to be funny (even though you might have heard a line a thousand times before) and someone who is addressing you as if you were a 5-year-old. And believe me, some people do talk in a very condescending manner, and therefore deserve to be put in their place. It’s not place to teach them to stop talking in stereotypes, they should already know.

  41. I am 44, lost both legs above the knee 14 years ago. I have heard most if not all comments mentioned here as well. And tt doesn’t bother me a second.

    As a matter of fact, I take all of them as a token of respect in some way or another, from an abled body person to a disabled body person. People sometimes feel powerless, yet they want to support or help you. Perhaps they show it in a ‘funny’ way. No harm done.

    And as long as disabled people are still a minority, of course part of our daily life will be like building bridges between ‘our’ world and theirs. All part of the game, if you ask me.

    Best one a kid once asked me: ‘Do you also sleep in your wheelchair?’

  42. avatar Scott says:

    Although I’m not in a wheelchair, I am an arm amputee. I welcome people asking me questions, I’d rather they do that then stare. The one thing that irritates me though, people that go out of their way to “help” you with the most mundane everyday task. I was opening a pack of cigarettes once, this person took them and opened the package for me. They received an expletive laced paragraph of words from me.

      • avatar Barb Huber says:

        I think people may want to try to help you do mundane things because we know how very difficult it would be for us to do those same things without the use of both our arms and hands. We just haven’t figured out yet that you HAVE figured it out! I’m sure people are only trying to be nice, although once you have politely declined any help, then I agree none is obviously needed.

  43. avatar Craig S says:

    After a car accident I spen several months in a wheelchair. The questions didn’t bother me. Someone trying to be funny and lighten the mood was okay. But those that thought that I couldn’t do anything were the ones that bothered me. Someone asking what happened I figured is trying to understand. If they were kids I thought great. I don’t want them growing up afraid of people in wheelchairs. That’s a stigma that people take into their adulthood and those are the one’s that won’t talk or walk way around you.

  44. avatar Bugs says:

    (8) is really a bit harsh. People say that because they think they wouldn’t be able to do the same thing themselves. To them it actually IS an accomplishment, and they congratulate or compliment people who accomplish things. The same way one would be impressed by the ability of someone to run very fast. They probably wouldn’t last a day in a similar position, and they know it. Take it with a smile!

  45. My favourite terrible questions were to my husband in a shopping mall, where I was using my manual chair because of my arthritis in my knees: Does she know we’re here? Does she know she’s in there? Would she like a cookie?

    • avatar cynthia burger says:

      I have a niece with CP who is in a wheelchair and who cannot speak or communicate what she knows. It is difficult not to know what she feels or wants beyond basic needs. She doesn’t have control over her hands… she is dependent upon her family… even if she was able to have some independence … the nature of her disability means that she would be reliant upon the kindness of strangers or upon services. Sometimes you do not know what someone’s circumstances are. If you are not able to communicate, if you cannot talk, if you cannot walk…if you cannot eat independently …you may or may not be able to understand what is said to you. I think for my niece it must be difficult to get the kind of response she gets… almost any kind of response. I have no answers… I had hoped when she was young that modern technology would help her communicate, to be self mobile… to have some form of independence… to make choices in this life that are wholly her own.

      Often children and adults look at her. If she is spoken to she cannot answer for herself. Her father addresses things cheerfully and with love.

  46. avatar Marja lokker says:

    When people ask me ” can i help you” , if i need help i ask for help but people ask me this so often and i’m tired of saying no thank you i can help myself. And then the people who get angry.pffffff

  47. avatar Lynn says:

    I am baffled as to why so many of the commenters here seem to infer that the author responds uncharitably when she is subjected to these comments. I would bet money that she responds graciously, over and over again.

    Articles like this have been written by people in a wide variety of “minority” groups. I have seen articles about what NOT to say to, variously: a person who has lost a child; a person with cancer; a parent of a child with autism; a African-American person; a pregnant woman; a gay person; a woman with infertility; a rape survivor; a person with depression… the list is practically endless. People who write these pieces are typically pleasant, polite, individuals who express their frustration in a good-natured manner, in writing, as an *alternative* to responding rudely in the moment, and perhaps as their personal contribution to reducing the amount of cluelessness in the world. Having these feelings doesn’t mean that a person is bitter or negative. It means that living as an idiot-magnet gets old after a while, regardless of which particular kind of idiot-magnetism you’re blessed with.

    What would make an interesting sociological study is this question: How much backlash do people in each of these groups get for having the audacity to call out the demeaning stupidity to which they’re subjected? My guess is that the extent to which a person is criticized and blamed for their “bad attitude” would provide an excellent rough measure of the amount of discrimination experienced by their particular demographic in society. PhD thesis, anyone?

  48. avatar Simmo says:

    This is a BRILLIANT article. After 44 years in a chair I’ve heard them all. Here’s. few more:

    1. People call you ‘he’, as in you go to a movie with a friend and the usher says to the friend, ‘can he get into a seat’, would he prefer to stay in his chair’ etc. HELLO, ‘he’ is right here.

    2. Why is it when you go to the shops, the religious types always target the person in he wheelchair? This is an extract from a memoir I’m writing (which is coming soon):

    And what’s with the God Squad? Have you ever been approached by one of ‘the chosen ones’ in a shopping centre? No? I’ll tell you why, it’s because they’re all making a beeline for me. I’ve been blessed by Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Scientologists — everyone but the Pope. Now in truth, I could probably do with a good blessing, but not for the reasons they’re thinking. Apparently there’s a tattoo emblazoned on my forehead saying, ‘My life is fucked, please show me the light’! And it doesn’t matter what I try — I’ve avoided making eye contact, I’ve taken routes so circuitous that Magellan would be smiling in his grave, and all this to avoid the disciples and get to where I’m going. But all to no avail. It seems, I am a magnet whose life is in need of some divine intervention. If I had a hundred dollars for every time I’ve been blessed I could buy half the Vatican City’s art collection.

  49. avatar Mark Roberts says:

    As a person who is more or less TAB (temp able bodied)
    I am sometimes curious about the nature of someones disability,
    or would like to banter or dialogue good-naturedly with an unfamiliar PWD (persons with disability).
    I try to be sensitive.
    If someone does not want to talk I get the message.

    A second wave of cultural revolution is needed.
    We got ADA and much physical access and accommodation.
    Now for the more difficult part: TAB comfort and normalizing PWD
    so that we can cooperate better to meet everyones human needs.
    My brother Ed used an iron lung from polio.
    He did get annoyed at times with people not addressing him directly.
    More than once “I’d rather be dead than crippled like you.”
    made our family cringe and laugh at the insensitivity.
    Now I understand the motives for the statement being honesty
    bravery and connection.

  50. avatar David says:

    I was really *hoping* that I’d be able to wizz through the list and think smugly to myself, “I’d never say anything like that.” Unfortunately, I reckon it would be all too easy for me to open my mouth and say something really stupid. Even on the basic stuff, I have on occasion caught myself about to talk to someone pushing a chair about whoever it is sitting in the chair… :-(

  51. avatar Cookie says:

    It would be nice if we could edit what the world says to any of us; however, we cannot. Please know that 99% of the comments are borne out of innocent ignorance or curiosity and do not contain any malice. The only shoulder chip we can fix is our own. I am the mother of a special needs’ child so I have some personal knowledge of this issue.

    • avatar Tootie says:

      @Cookie, you took the words out of my mouth! I, too, amd the mother of a special needs child who uses a wheelchair to get along. If I copped an attitude every time somebody said something un-pc like, my neck wouild be glued to my shoulder.
      Most ppl don’t intend to be malicious and a simple, informative correction goes a long, long way to help enlighten them. Hostility and defensiveness does nothing but erect barriers. As far as this article is concerned, most of these comments can be and are made to just about any other “minority” group out there, included red heads.

      • avatar Lottaluv4buks (books) says:

        Hello Cookie and Tootie,
        I was born with a disability. It is sad to say that it took me at least 30 years to understand what you all and my mother have known for a while. As a person with a disability, being pointed and giggled at (by able bodied children), which is usually done while mom is not looking, and getting endless stares and hearing ignorant comments by total strangers ALL of my life becomes quite draining on the spirit. It is literally a constant battle to make yourself feel good and maintain high self-esteem. I feel that as a mother myself now I can better relate to curious people and rude statements. But until you have gone through what we children with disabilities have gone through you will never know. I remember when there were times when I would begin to cry in the hospital and my mom would say to me, “If you cry I’m leaving.” So I would fight back the tears. Just recently my mom was hospitalized for the same reasons I was hospitalized at one time and she too is now relying on a wheelchair just like me. One day mom said to me, “I now know what you went through.” I could not respond, but in all honesty I was really smiling inside. It is then that I realized that sometimes our silence can be more powerful than most words.

  52. avatar Mark says:

    Doesn’t bother me near as much as the ones who tell me they were in a wheelchair for a week or two when I inform them they are parked illegally, blocking a wheelchair ramp or curb cut, “yes, wow, a whole week, yet you didn’t know this is the only way wheelchair users can get on the sidewalk, and out of the rain, bless your heart!” Papa Johns, repeat offenders, you can kiss my ass I’d not eat your damn food even if I was starving, management and staff laughing at me struggling to get around the car, not even the corporate headquarters was interested in my complaint.

  53. avatar Jess says:

    I really appreciate articles like this because wheelchair use is not a part of my daily life so I don’t know – but I want to! I have a disabled daughter and we aren’t up to wheels yet but the stupid comments come thick and fast. I try and respond graciously and with good humour even when it hits a nerve because most people ARE well meaning (even when they are a stranger on the street asking me how long she will live for). An article like this actually makes me more comfortable in approaching someone in a chair and making small talk as I know they have probably heard more stupid, ignorant things than are likely to come out of my mouth.

  54. avatar cinnamon says:

    have been in and out of the chair for well over 20 years now, have had to go back to using it in the last few months. i think the stupidest remark i have heard was from the receptionist at my Dr’s office. ‘still not any better?” (i have a compression fracture to add to all the other inconveniences of having nerve damage in my spine). it is not going to miraculously fix itself, lady!! didn’t say it, but i wanted to. :)

  55. avatar Karen McDonald says:

    Don’t stare, don’t ignore, say something, don’t say something: everyone is different. Everybody gets asked daft questions – live with it like everybody else has to. Whatever you do you will be criticized anyway. So do what the hell you want? There is no getting round it – people are generally stupid – so what? Who is the exception? Who will throw the first stone?

  56. avatar Sandie says:

    My favorite? “Can I have a ride?”

    I’m used to people asking the above questions all the time, but the most annoying thing that happens to me… a lot… Is asking if they can have a ride, or better yet, actually sit on my lap!

    I’m a 45-year-old woman… Do I look like a taxi or sofa to you?

  57. avatar Suzanne says:

    My favorite ever that I’ve been asked, “did you get tired of walking or something?”

  58. avatar Ron Graves says:

    “I would rather die than be like you.” To which the only sensible response is, “Well, don’t let me keep you . . .”.

  59. avatar Roger Prouse says:

    A guy who is what is commonly refered to as a born again christian, once asked me why my legs were not working ..a correct ‘ assumption’ on his part,my reply was not polite, needless to say, he bent over and placed his hands on my legs ‘ in the name of jesus ‘ declaring they would heal…and had they have been up to the job….I would have kicked him straight in the head.

  60. avatar Christine Roy says:

    To me this is a question of attitude , education and verbal clumsiness

  61. [...] SEE ALSO: 10 Things to Never Say to a Person in a Wheelchair [...]

  62. [...] colleagues have written some poignant pieces about What Not to Say to a Person Who Uses a Wheelchair, and What Not to Say to the Spouse of a Person with a Disability which have elicited some negative [...]

  63. avatar Melissa MB Wilkins says:

    Really? None of these questions or statements bothers ME at all. Yeah, I’ve heard some of them too many times, maybe, but I take them in the spirit they were intended. Like the comments of a young child, they are made in ignorance and innocence. Now, the “‘I’d rather die’ comment I’m surprised was made, because that should have b known to be an inappropriate comment to anyone, but again, I’m sure it was made innocently and honestly, and is provides an excellent opportunity to share an alternative view oflife. No problem! I feel healthier not getting worked up over comments made innocently. Now, when people block ramps, park in handicap spots when they don’t need them, I have more problems, because they cause ME actual problems. Comments don’t.

  64. [...] More From This Author: 10 Things to Never Say to a Person in a Wheelchair [...]

  65. avatar Sanders says:

    “and someone says as you whiz by, “Good for you,” you almost can’t help but want to punch them in the face.”

    As people in wheelchairs whiz by me on the sidewalk, I can’t help but want to punch them in the face. Sidewalks are PUBLIC spaces; for people in wheelchairs to hog the entire sidewalk and to not slow down when passing other pedestrians is rude, dangerous, and selfish.

    This page and the comments on it also prove why people hate “people with disabilities” so much. You have no sense of humour. Maybe the reason you can’t walk is you have a giant stick shoved up your ass.

    You think it is okay to dictate how people should treat you, only furthering the stereotype that you ARE in fact, different.

  66. avatar N0M4D says:

    I’m wheelchair bound and you don’t speak on my behalf. I prefer people asking personal questions rather than staring. It takes alot of courage for most people to ask us a question. You’re going to punish them for trying to educate themselves? Sure we get that crap said to us, but that’s why I personally am an open book and educate them. People like the author who gets easily offended is why people remain afraid to get to know someone with a disability. 90% of the people who didn’t know me and asked me a question, I am now friends with. Tiffiny, open your mind and heartand realize there are two sides of a coin.

  67. I always hated, “I know exactly how you feel. I broke my hip and was in a wheelchair for three weeks.” Oh, sure, that’s EXACTLY how it feels!

  68. I also hate it when people ask if I knew my husband before he was hurt. It doesn’t make any difference! And it’s a rude, nosey question.

  69. Hi All,
    I found this tips quite interesting and appreciate them. I have an auto-immune disease which attacks my muscles and causes muscle weakness. This is managed most of the time so I get around okay but there are times where I’m confined to bed and I usually have a nap for at least an hour each day. I am a member of a muscular dystrophy association. I get people assuming I’m fine because I can walk and I identify very closely to my MD friends in wheelchairs even though outsiders can’t see that. My disease is seriously life threatening all the same. I tend to feel that I am closely related to people in wheelchairs but can’t express that. ASometimes I think I should go and get a scooter so I could go to more places like the Easter Show but I’m not that a driver and I think I’d crash. Also, having to spend the money on bulky equipment and store it when I don’t need it often is hard to justify. I just stay home. I would probably make a comment on the speed because I would love to get around a bit faster and as I said, go places I can’t access at the moment. That said, I can certainly access a lot of places that can’t be accessed or can’t be accessed easily in a chair and I am mindful of that.
    It is important for everyone to be aware that we don’t always know someone else’s story and they might have a hidden battle say with something like depression and find it hard to get going.
    Just a few thoughts.
    xx Rowena

  70. avatar Heather Moorman says:

    Read this article recently have been asked all of these questions but #5. While I respect your stance, I have to say, I TOTALLY disagree!!!! I LOVE it when people engage me! Even young children, “What’s wrong with that lady, mama? Why is she in a ‘stroller’?”

    Checkers at the grocery store, “Oh, did how did you hurt yourself?” People at church, “But you were walking last week, how come you’re sometimes in the chair and sometimes not?”

    My own father regularly approaches people wheelchair bound with a big smile, “There’s a speed limit in here!” Bringing levity is a great way to start a conversation without seeming awkward. As long as it’s done with respect of course.

    All of my family members and dearest friends I think have learned through my struggles and are not afraid to ask questions, “Would you like a hand?”

    I got strange looks when I’d use my deluxe walker or pink cane…I’m sure it’s because of my age and the fact that I don’t often “look” sick.

    The hardest part about the wheelchair for me is when people DON’T talk to me. I think it’s because they don’t know what to say or do. Perhaps they were chided by a wheelchair bound individual for offering to help with a door or something so are intimidated by me.

    I never, ever pass up on opportunity to talk to or at the very least smile at someone using an assistive device. They way I look at it is, even if a person fumbles when they interact with me or isn’t PC, whatever, they are trying! I want to create a positive experience so in the future they are more likely to engage.

    (Note: I am not a quad like you…I have MS and have gone up to two years needing my chair and up to 5 months without it so that I’m sure changes my outlook a bit)

  71. My husband was deaf. People used to ask me how he could drive. My answer: He puts the key in the ignition and turns it, puts his foot on the gas…

  72. Being in a motorized wheelchair, I often hear (from men)

    “You’re such a pretty girl… what happened.”

    “God bless…” (as they look at me with pity)

    “But I guess I shouldn’t complain, right” as they look at me and the chair.

    and of course the daily random looks of confusion, pity and disgust.

    Viva La Able-ism! ;P

  73. [...] More From This Author: 10 Things to Never Say to a Person in a Wheelchair [...]

  74. For the life of me I do not know I ended up at this site, but I am very glad and very fortunate that I did. I have been in a custom chair made just for me. I weigh in at 312.2# and I am 6ft.1in. Retired United States Marine. I have been disabled for four years and some months. But I have been in a wheel chair only about four years. The reason being I was in a medical induced coma from Oct. 2008 to Feb. 2009. That was when I woke up and had no idea where I was or what had happened to me. I had contracted Necrotizing faschitis ( also known as The Flesh Eating Bacteria). It will kill you within 24 hours. And I came really close to being right down to the wire. I am very fortunate to be alive. I have no right shoulder. There are no bones or muscles or tendons. While in surgery I had a stroke. Losing the use of my left leg. The only thing that could and did save was my LORD and Savior.

  75. avatar sarah says:

    I had a guy stop me @ Kroger one day and say “you’ve got the life”….I was dumb-founded. All I could say was “yeah”. I was so pissed off the whole rest of the day.

  76. [...] 10 Things to Never Say to a Person in a Wheelchair [...]

  77. [...] 10 Things to Never Say to a Person in a Wheelchair [...]

  78. [...] it if you can) and help change the world little by little by committing these faux pas to memory. Read Full Article [...]

  79. [...] 10 Things to Never Say to a Person in a Wheelchair [...]

  80. avatar Mary Crawford says:

    I have cerebral palsy, so I’ve heard this stuff my entire life. For the most part, I try to let it slide, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get tiresome on occasion.

    Are you going to hit me with that thing? Why no, I wasn’t planning to. Do you routinely walk into walls?

    (and it’s corollary–Do you have a license of that thing?–If I needed one I would have no problem getting one since I have a valid driver’s license with a cleaner record than my husband.)

    Can you have sex? — I was just 17 and on a public bus when someone decided that it was their right to know that about me. I answered, “Not right now thanks.”

    (The corollary to that, my husband once had a co-worker ask him how it felt to f**k a cripple.)

    (Also on related topic when I was 8 months pregnant with my oldest son (now 24), she asked me if he was mine. –Because apparently, it was shocking to her that people with disabilities are capable of having sex and procreating.

    You’re so courageous. Really? Why? I get out of bed like every other wife and mom. I am a Civil Rights Attorney. But, there are nearly 11,000 other attorneys in Oregon too.

  81. avatar David says:

    Is anyone frustrated in public because of people not seeing you in the wheelchair and getting in your way? I know some motorized chairs have horns but the others don’t. I was in a non-motorized one only for several hours in public (at an aquarium) due to a back injury. I found this to be true in my case and wondered how much of an issue it truly is. I can say that I have a greater appreciation now for the disabled in trying to have a normal life.

  82. avatar David says:

    Maybe people just think they are being kind by saying something instead of ignoring.

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