Er…umm…raise your hand?
Oh, shoot, you can’t. Uh, just blink then.
Dear Lord. Get a life.
When you use a wheelchair or have any kind of visible disability, you have to be ready for anybody to say anything at anytime. You might start your day with an old man who thinks he’s giving you a compliment by telling you you’re too pretty to be in a wheelchair; by lunch, three or four folks have asked, “What happened to you?”; and before the end of the day, you’ve made some poor, well-intentioned guy nearly pee himself out of embarrassment over a common expression like, “Well, I have to run.”
In 2009, Bryan and I took a trip to NYC for what I thought was just a fun weekend trip. Turned out, he was planning to propose. I’ll write about it sometime. Anyway, it was November and I had forgotten to bring gloves, so we stopped in Lululemon to see if they had anything. I found a pair of light gloves and was trying them on when an employee approached me, looking a little uncomfortable, and word vomit ensued.
“Looking for some gloves?”
“Well, those gloves are great for running.” [Look of pure horror.] “Or, umm, anything you do outside…” [Squirms in place, then quickly walks away.]
Bryan and I laughed for a long time, then bought the gloves and went for a walk. Yes, I said a walk.
Six expressions you don’t have to get awkward about.
1. “Do you want to go for a walk?” or any iteration of that sentence. Trust me, it’s worse when you say roll. People who are overly literal irritate me.
2. “Up and running.” A person who’s addicted to awkwardness usually follows this with, “Er…haha…rolling.”
3. “Take a seat.” Yes, I know, I’m already seated. It’s not a new joke. I’m disappointed in your lack of creativity.
4. “Do you want to drive or walk?” I do understand that what you meant to ask is whether I’d like to take the car or the sidewalk. Do you realize that the alternative to this sentence would sound something like, “Do you want to drive, or should I walk next to you while you push your wheelchair?” That’s ridiculous.
5. “How tall are you?” This question does not need to be rephrased as, “How long are you?” I get it.
6. “I’ve been on my feet all day.” What you mean is that you’ve been busy and moving all day. People in wheelchairs have days like that, too, but to say this literally would be, “I’ve been rolling around on my ass all day.” Not the same effect, is it?
This is for the good of everyone involved.
You might not realize it, but making a big deal of semantics only further separates us as people with and without disabilities. The habit some people make of pointing them out isn’t just so annoying that it makes me want to feed my dog a lot of cheese and let her sleep in their beds; it’s also socially harmful. We work so hard to close the perceived gaps between us, and language nitpickers just move it all backwards.
I know we live in a time of ironic and dark humor, and I’m actually a professional at both. But come on, man, there’s a time and a place. I don’t want to worry about getting corrected every freaking time I say that my husband and I walked to the store.
Next time you ask a person in a wheelchair to grab a seat, I dare you to do it with a straight face. I bet no one will even notice.