Disability Etiquette?

Dec 23, 2010
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If a person has a visible disability like a spinal cord injury or maybe Cerebral Palsy, the world seems to always be watching and asking questions about their disability.  A good friend of mine lives with a spinal cord injury, and I can’t count the number of times that he has gone somewhere or was trying to eat a meal and a stranger stopped to ask him “How did you get hurt?”  In the course of my friendship with him, I have been more than amazed at the number of people who think that it is their right to know how my friend got hurt.  It is as though my friend wears a sign that reads, “Ask me why I am in a wheelchair?”

I understand that people are naturally curious (and ignorant), but when did it become polite to walk up to a complete stranger and ask questions that range from “How did you get injured?” to “If you can’t stand up, how do you go to the bathroom?”  What is even more ridiculous are the questions that people ask me about my friend, because they don’t want to ask him directly.  I have been asked things like “When will he be able to walk again?” or “Can he drive a car by himself?”

The psychologist part of my brain tells me that maybe people want to know how people are become disabled so that they can avoid these dangers for themselves.  But more often than not, the questions are fast and furious and rarely revolve around how the injury happened.  My friend is very willing to answer the questions that people ask him.  I just wonder if there is ever a day that maybe he would like to just go about his business and not be asked.  As people we sometimes allow are curiosity to get the best of us, but I ask you to please take a moment to think not only about what you are asking but why you are asking the question.  People with disabilities are as public and private as people without disabilities and it is time to increase our awareness before opening our mouths.

Author: Elizabeth



  • Kwiley01

    This is a very eloquent editorial and a very needed message. People with disabilities answer such questions to lessen the degree of unawareness.