In reading my stories, I ran across a post on AAM from someone who had a variety of chronic illnesses, some of which affected her walking. She recently bought a wheelchair that helped on her worst days. The problem was that she worked in residential life and had distant coworkers (not the ones she works with intimately) asking her about it when she first broke it out. One was shockingly rude about it, and she wanted to know the best way to respond. She didn’t mind educating on her good days, but she didn’t have the wherewithal to deal with it on her bad days. Alison made it an ask the readers question, and the comments grew lively and contentious.
It’s not unusual to this topic in that people who are in the majority, in this case, abled people, not understanding that what they consider is benign, well, isn’t. You can’t know what you don’t know. You don’t have the context because it’s not part of your life, and nobody can put themselves in someone else’s shoes 100% of the time. And, if I want to think the best of people, some people truly can’t understand how insidious all kinds of isms are.
Back to the post. It’s difficult because people within the category have different ideas about how to deal with the issue because no group is a monolith. In addition, with the disability issue, there is the additional problem that if someone is on crutches or in a wheelchair as, say, the results of an accident, they want people to inquire about them as a show of care. But, several people with disabilities in the comments said it was delivery, not the actual question itself. “What happened????” was routinely disdained–weirdly, one person who as far as I could tell was not disabled, was firmly invested that this was the way to go–whereas there was more a split on “Are you ok?” Some people said it was fine as long as you accepted the answers. Others said even that was too invasive. They preferred, “How are you doing?” In other words, what you’d ask anyone. Someone else pointed out you can tell when someone is used to using crutches, a cane, or a wheelchair versus a n00b.
Some commenters said that most people didn’t mean to be malicious. Which is true. But intent isn’t magic, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a gentle pushback on what is considered the norm. When I was in college, I used to get asked quite often where I was from. I would answer my hometown in Minnesota, and they would invariably ask, “No, but where are you really from?” It was annoying as fuck, so I made it a mental game to see how long it would take for that second question to follow the first. And it always did. No one was ever satisfied with my first answer.
One thing Alison of AAM does well is provide scripts to people who need them. Same with Captain Awkward. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I developed scripts to deal with all the nosy parkers who demanded to know my heritage.