Sam is a 21-year-old living in suburban upstate NY, navigating her disability and the stigmas that it brings.
1. Don't wheel a person's chair without asking
Even if you're intending to be helpful, it's proper etiquette to ask first. Some wheelchair users who don't use a power chair prefer to self-propel as a means of independence. Others may be grateful for the assistance; personally when I'm not using my power chair I prefer to be wheeled instead of self-propelling as it's less physically taxing for me.
People often don't understand that randomly pushing someone's wheelchair is a bit like if you were to be blind-folded and led somewhere against your will; you can't stop it if you don't know where you're going.
2. "What's wrong with you?"
NEVER EVER ask someone with any kind of disability this question. Not only is it very impolite, but asking this question makes you look extremely tactless. Personally I will answer this question because I understand it can be uncomfortable for those who have never been around a disabled person before; not that it should be, but sometimes it is. My best advice would be to try and phrase this question differently if possible. Otherwise, depending on the person, you may not like what they have to say in response.
3. "My sister's friend's cousin is disabled too — do you know them?"
Well, I'm sorry to hear about your sister's friend's cousin but no I probably don't know them. Not all disabled people know each other. It isn't some secret society that goes bowling on Friday nights. We're just people. What if I every time I saw a able-bodied person walking, I approached them with something ridiculous like: "The Queen of England can walk, do you know her?" That would be ludicrous because chances are you don't know The Queen.
4. "What happened?"
I understand that this is a valid question for some, as some people with disabilities were involved in accidents causing their disability, but that doesn't apply to every single person with a disability or everyone that uses a wheelchair. Some of us were just born like this.
My disability, which is Cerebral Palsy if you were wondering, was caused by a freak accident in the womb upon my entrance into the world. My mother's placenta detached from her uterine wall, which is something that happens in 1 in 1000 pregnancies. So essentially I was suffocating inside for an unknown period of time before doctors did an emergency c-section, thus resulting in my cerebral palsy. Doctors can't explain why every once in a while this happens; it just does. I don't have CP because my mother smoked while I was in utero (she did) or because the moon was in Aquarius. I have it because I have it.
5. "I wish I was in a wheelchair!"
No, no you don't. Unless, of course, you like the idea of having little to no independence, the inability to take care of yourself by yourself, and near constant pain from somewhere/everywhere on your body. Being wheelchair bound is extremely hard and is a fate I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.
It's easy to say our grass is greener than an able-bodied person because being disabled seemingly comes with a slew of perks and that just isn't the case. Yes, many of us myself included get some form of benefits, but at what cost?
6. "The government pays you to be disabled? Maybe I should break my legs."
There is so many things wrong with that statement, including the number of times I've heard it. In fact if I had a dollar for every time I heard something along the lines of that above statement, I could probably pay my bills more effectively. Let me break it down for you I receive $1,070 a month from NYS in SSI. My rent for the group home I live in is $970, and minutes for my phone are another $50, so that leaves me $50 dollars for thirty days, or about 1.66 a day. Now please tell me again how I have it so easy and you wish you were disabled.
7. "Can you feel . . . down there?"
I'm not now or ever going to answer this question, so I'll ask you one: Mr. or Mrs. Average, do you ask your average friends if they can feel their genitalia? Because that's not something I'd ask my friends, let alone a stranger.
8. "Don't you wish you could walk?"
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Roxie Myers on August 04, 2017:
Samantha your words help me so much. I have a 19 yr old son with CP & is in a wheelchair. He in non verbal. You have opened up my mind on what he is feeling & thinking. I love reading your articles & look forward to reading & learning more from you.
Elysa Ferrara on August 03, 2017:
I love this, I don't want to hear from the experts, I don't want to hear from the relatives, I want to hear from real people about their lives and I appreciate the honesty of your comments. You are on a mission and your audience is growing. Great job!