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Don’t Be a Dick: Ableism

On this episode of “Don’t Be a Dick,” we cover how not to be a dick to disabled people, specifically those of us who are wheelchair users. First, the basics. I was born with a genetic disability called Osteogenesis Imperfecta. I have been in a wheelchair since I was 5 years old, so I have had 24 years of experience with people being dicks and I am here to save you from that unfortunate title.

The most important thing to know is that I am a fully independent human being who is not helpless. In fact, I can probably do most everything that you can and maybe even some things better. The difference is that I do them on wheels and you do them on legs. Judgment and assumptions are human conditions and even I as a disabled individual am subject to them. Now, I acknowledge that most people mean well and have good intentions. Most people are not trying to be dicks on purpose and their treatment of disabled individuals is merely born from ignorance. Hopefully, these tips will help you to stop and think next time you meet someone in a wheelchair so that you can avoid joining the ignorant masses.

  1. Don’t ask disabled people if they need help with menial tasks. We are all fairly independent people and if we aren’t, then we have caretakers or guide dogs already and don’t need your help. So unless we really look like we are struggling, don’t ask if we need help pouring cream in our coffee or getting up the hill. We’ll ask for help if we really need it.
  2. Don’t make stupid jokes like “Slow down there or you might get a ticket” or “Damn that looks fast, careful not to run anyone over!” I’d advise you to stop and think about if someone made a joke like that about you on the street, like “Wow, look how white you are, almost blinded me” or “Look at those legs, they must be pretty good for walking!”
  3. Don’t touch someone’s wheelchair without asking. Most of the time, people just ask me if I need help up a hill. But sometimes, the worst offenders are those who just start pushing me without asking. If I were to start pushing someone up a hill, it would be assault. But if someone does it to me, it suddenly becomes okay? This should be obvious, but respect boundaries and personal space and don’t touch unless asked.
  4. If you have children, please tell them not to stare. Us disabled folk know that kids are curious and that’s okay. It’s not their fault. But as the parent, you need to know better. Talk to your kid about disability. Inform them and make them aware of the differences of others. And if they are curious, encourage them to ask questions rather than stare blankly as if we are strange enigmas ripping open space and time.
  5. When in the bathroom, don’t use the handicap stall unless all the others are taken. Please, consider that you don’t need the giant bathroom stall for one minute before you use it. This way, I don’t have to stare at you as you get done shitting and make you feel like a dumbfuck while I am waiting for you to get out of the handicap stall. Odds are, most of the other ones were also open.
  6. Watch where you park. There are grid lines for a reason. And they aren’t parking spots. Park a reasonable distance away from them so that those of us with ramp vans can get out of our cars and please, for the love of god, don’t park in the middle of the lines. You not only look like an idiot, but now you’ve made my life much more difficult because you were lazy. This is not X marks the spot. Oh and never EVER park in a handicap spot unless you have a placard or I will report you and get you ticketed.
  7. Don’t treat us any differently in conversation. You don’t have to bend down to our level. We can hear you just fine and you look like you’re trying way too hard. Don’t pat us on the head, talk to us like a child, or make assumptions about what we are going through. Odds are, we are pretty much the same as you are except we use wheels to get around. If you want respect from a wheelchair user, approach us and talk to us as you would anyone else.
  8. Don’t ever bring God into a conversation with someone who is a wheelchair user. The worst thing you can say is “can I pray for you?” or “Jesus loves you.” Many of us are atheists or agnostics and we don’t need God’s love or your pity. We are not here to give you the good deed pass of the day.
  9. ABOVE ALL ELSE, we are not inspiration porn. We don’t want to serve as your personal motivation and our mere existence is not some incredible feat of unspeakable proportions. As much as the temptation may arise, never tell us how awesome we are or how inspiring what we are doing is unless you know us well. Odds are, I’ve gone up that hill a lot of times, I work out at that gym every week, I go through that park often. It’s not that amazing. It’s just my life and I’m trying to live it just like you are.
  10. Finally, don’t stand in the middle of the curb cut while you wait to cross the street. Get your head out of your ass and look around you to make sure no one needs it.

I understand that most people don’t have experience with those with disabilities and that’s okay. Just remember that we are not that different from you. These tips are meant to help you avoid the fate of being a dick to someone in a wheelchair without realizing it. If you treat us exactly as you would treat anyone else, we will probably respect you a lot more and frankly, probably be impressed that you are not an ignorant child.

Until next time, happy humaning.