Tagged: Disability

Handicapped Places

People in our society have absolutely no clue how to treat a disabled person.

The one year anniversary of quitting my job and journeying into “gimp land” is fast approaching. In this last year, I have learned a lot about what it’s like to be a disabled person in a society of able-bodied people. From the big things (Always have a walking buddy if you go anywhere, in case your body decides “This is a good time to stop working.”) to the little things (Never wear laced shoes in public. Try to tie your shoes without bending your knees and you will understand this.), there are a million and one things that you have to know as a disabled person that no one can teach you. It’s like a toddler learning to walk: it can only be learned through experience (although it’s far less “crawling before walking,” and more “falling before limping.”) Unfortunately, for every lesson I learn about myself during this transition, I learn two about other people. Most of these lessons can be generalized to “People suck.”

There is a school of thought that surfaced in my generation (20-30 year olds) stressing that handicapped people are exactly the same as able-bodied people. The Special Olympics, “handi-capable” groups and seminars that teach “Bob in Accounting is just like you despite missing his legs,” all tell us that we should always treat disabled people as equals. A lot of these groups insist that offering any courtesy to a disabled person that you wouldn’t offer to an able-bodied person is, at best, ignorant; at worst, it is an insulting display of discrimination. Thanks to many of these groups, we who are disabled enjoy the freedom and equality that our able-bodied brethren enjoy every single day. On paper this may make you want to wear American flag boxers to bed and sing the “Star-Spangled Banner” in the shower. Unfortunately, as often is the nature of these things, the world refuses to work the way it does on paper.

There is a fundamental problem with this belief: people with disabilities are not the same as able-bodied people. Heck, one disability isn’t even the same as another. Bob from Accounting needs plenty of special treatment in order for him to get through his work day; he needs elevators, ramps, a work space that is accessible from his wheelchair and co-workers who would stop putting the sugar on the top shelf in the break room. Is he less of a human because of it? Hell no, (Unless you measure humanity by mass, in which case the answer is “Hell yes.” Also, “Seek help.”) but you can’t treat him like any other coworker, because he isn’t like any of your other coworkers.

Here’s a personal example: I went to Taco Bell by myself on the way to a doctor’s appointment recently. When my number was called, I walked to the counter (using my cane to steady myself, as I often do) and proceeded to awkwardly try to balance the tray in my free hand. After several minutes of mastering this hilarious circus act, I slowly made my way to the soda fountain and filled my drink up before realizing I now had two things to balance in my one hand. Luckily, an incredibly helpful man walked over and carried my tray for me (thankfully avoiding the “grandpa” jokes I always hear so often) and I enjoyed my bean paste wrapped in tortilla-like paper.

What’s the point of that story? The entire time this was going on, there were two perfectly healthy, able-bodied people behind the counter watching me; there was no line and no one else to help. They just stood there and stared awkwardly as I fumbled my way across the room without ever asking if I needed help. It’s entirely possible (and likely) that their decision to not help me was more driven by laziness than the desire to be seen as an equal opportunity establishment, but their defense if pressed would’ve absolutely been that I had not asked for assistance and therefore could handle myself. I ran into this at my last job: we were taught to never offer help to someone with a disability unless they asked for it first. The problem with this logic is that asking for help when you are disabled is really freaking hard. Being disabled already makes you feel like a giant cancerous burden on your friends and family, no one in their right mind wants to add “random people” to that list.

The point is, we aren’t all on equal footing when it comes to everyday tasks. Some of us are at a disadvantage and need that extra bit to get us through the day. So please, the next time you see a guy standing on a bus with a cane, give him your seat. You never know if he could be an internet blogger, and I know I’d much rather be remembered as an insultingly helpful person than an ass who is too politically correct to lend a hand.

If you’re so helpful it hurts, or you think I’m a giant tool, please post a comment!
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The Thing About People…

I hate people in a very general sense.

Its not that I dislike a particular race or creed, or even a particular type of personality. I just generally hate people. Many people have positive aspects and, when caught alone, those positives can outweigh the festering mass of negative energy I get from exposure to society. Then I go out into the world and experience people in large groups and I mourn for society as a whole.

A few years ago, while locked in a gruesome battle with a squadron of space monkeys, I was injured. Due to this injury, I walk with an exceptionally cool looking cane. Now, being a good looking individual (I look kind of like if Brad Pitt and Harrison Ford (When he wasn’t all wrinkly, of course) had their genes mixed in a surrogate mother.), I attract a lot of attention with my awesome cane. This wouldn’t normally be an issue (I’m used to lots of totally valid attention) but the problem is that most people don’t know how to deal with a young, attractive male using a cane. It leads to many, many awkward moments that compound onto each other and continue to add more bad marks onto humanity’s report card.

A few nights ago I went to a local bar with some friends. These were work friends, the kind that you know well enough to apparently watch them get drunk but not well enough for them to drive you home. Overall it was a good evening, but I was reminded over and over that apparently no one in existence has the social capacity to see past a person’s physical disabilities.

On the one hand, we have Awkward Guy In Line dude. AGIL dude is the guy standing behind me as we shuffled toward the bouncer checking IDs who felt compelled to start a conversation with me. This is normal and perfectly acceptable social behavior.

“How’s the weather?” would have been an excellent start.

“I love your awesome tie/vest combo!” may have leaned a little towards flirting, but hey, we’ve all been a little buzzed before. I would have been accepting.

“Dude, nice cane. What’s wrong with your leg?” is not, under any circumstance, an acceptable introduction. You might as well have said, “Hi. My name is Greg. I’m a douche.” The last thing that someone using a cane wants to know is that the moment someone meets them, the first thing they notice is HOLY CRAP, IS THAT DUDE A CRIPPLE?!? Furthermore, when you ask your completely inappropriate question in that tone that suggests you love apple martinis and have had three too many tonight, don’t be surprised when I say, “I lost a fight with a cyborg.” You deserve it.

Closely related to AGIL is Someone Else’s Date man. SED is the guy who, after a few drinks, ends up next to me at the bar because his date has either 1) ended up dancing with someone else, 2) ended up leaving early because her grandmother is totally in the hospital and she’s really sorry and she’s going to make it up to you I promise, or 3) just hates you and wants you to go somewhere else. SED feels like he can relate to me because I, through some degrees of separation, know his date and that means that we are instantly the best of friends.

Now, unlike AGIL, who shoves his foot down his throat immediately upon discovering my existence, SED is subtle. He dodges around the subject, stealing glances at the cane and my leg, as if through sheer observation he can avoid the awkward conversation brewing in his mind about why I am using a cane. Failing that, he brings up several subjects that are all closely related to canes or disabilities or legs. That one time he broke his leg in high school. The family heirloom hanging in his living room that totally looks like my cane. The fact that his fa- Dude, why are you using a cane? Aren’t you like 21?

Also unlike AGIL, SED doesn’t take a hint. I can’t dismiss SED with a snide or sarcastic comment about the nature of my injury. We are best friends, remember? If I tell him a tiger mauled my leg two years ago, he’ll laugh and say, “No, really. How’d it happen?” So the two of us go back and forth like this for what seems like hours until, suddenly, like drug fueled inspiration dawning on a half-asleep rock star, he realizes the truth:

We are not best friends.

I don’t have to tell him about my injury.

My injury is, in fact, a personal matter.

He should shut up now.

Then he spews out some half-assed excuse about his herpes acting up and wanders off into the crowded bar, searching desperately for someone who is able to use both of their legs without assistance that he can talk to about sports.