5 Things to never say to your disabled coworker
Here’s a question: why, in 2018, do people still seem to lose the ability to have a normal conversation with someone who has a disability? What is it about my wheelchair that causes random people to forget what manners are or what acceptable small talk is? Ask me about the weather or something, come on.
I get it, people are curious. I accept that and I’m willing to talk about my life and my experiences as a disabled woman. There’s a time and a place, though, and going up to someone you don’t really know to spring an invasive question on them is never cool.
Just to make it a little easier, let’s go through a few things you should never say to your disabled coworkers or classmates:
“So, like, what’s the matter with you?”
Stop asking this. First of all, there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with us. Second of all, you wouldn’t go up to a seemingly healthy or abled person on the street and demand intimate details about their medical history. Why is it deemed okay to ask someone with a disability? Curiosity doesn’t give you a pass to be rude, insensitive, or to pry.
“How do you go to the bathroom/get dressed/get to work?”
I wish that I was kidding here, but I’ve been asked all of these things (and more) publicly. I try so hard to not be ashamed of anything relating to my disability. Like, really hard every day. When someone comes up to your desk in a very quiet office, and LOUDLY asks you how you go to the bathroom? It’s hard to not panic and feel a twinge of shame. Or, at least it was for me.
It is none of your business how a disabled person goes to the bathroom. If someone wants to share to raise awareness or to just wants to talk about it, that’s great. If they’re just trying to work, keep your nosy questions to yourself.
“I have/had a friend in a wheelchair.”
It’s not a club. We don’t meet every Wednesday to talk about how stoked we are on the invention of the wheel. I’m not sure what people expect from me when they randomly tell me they know someone disabled, and I DEFINITELY don’t know what to do when they tell me that person died.
For the love of all that is holy, stop telling people you knew someone with the same diagnosis who died. In what universe is that kind or comforting? Or even just something you casually chit chat about?
“Hey now, no speeding!”
I’ve heard every possible variation of your speeding/racing joke. Repeatedly. It’s not funny or clever. I appreciate you trying to make me smile or laugh, but please get new material. A nice pun, perhaps. Anything.
“It’s so good to see you out of the house and smiling.”
When disabled people leave their house, it’s not anything miraculous. It’s exactly the same as anyone else leaving the house. Statements like this only serve as a reminder that disabled lives are viewed as so pathetic and awful that something as mundane as smiling to a coworker as they pass their cubicle is worthy of praise.
Disabled people can do more than sit at home until they die. Once everyone stops being surprised by that, maybe they can actually try to include us. I don’t know, just a thought.
*sighs* I really, really, try to be patient. People are awkward, we say things we shouldn’t. God knows I have plenty of times. I know that when people say these things to me they don’t have negative intentions. At some point though, intentions stop being enough to make me look the other way.
It’s not like it’s a rare thing. It’s all the time and has been since I was a kid. I know it’s the same for every other disabled person I’ve ever met.
Part of being an inclusive environment is treating disabled people the same way you treat everyone else. I turn 26 next week, and I’m still waiting for the day people talk to me like they do to any of my other coworkers, or friends, or even strangers in the same line at the Starbucks.
Your curiosity is not more important than another person’s comfort or well being. You don’t get to make disabled people feel weird or uncomfortable and then treat it like it was your good deed of the day.