If you do a Google search for “What Not To Say To A Person In A Wheelchair” you will find many lists of what we wheelies consider offensive, or are just tired of hearing. I don’t know if I have anything to add to what has previously been written, as these lists make me say, “Absolutely!” when I read them.
But this weekend I had to work doing outreach at a local senior expo and I heard many comments I am tired of hearing. As I was driving home with my colleague, we started talking about the comments one hears regularly if one happens to use a wheelchair for mobility. That led to talk of dating and my experiences with men who obviously are trying to connect with me, but fall short.
So, I present to you my list of the top four things no chick in a chair ever wants to hear from a potential date. Should you be a man trying to approach a cute chick in a chair, you might want to pay attention. I imagine the same holds true if you are a woman trying to approach a cute dude in a chair. In fact, if you are a human trying to make conversation with anyone using a wheelchair, take heed. These are the comments we hope to NEVER hear again, and comments I (unfortunately) hear on a regular basis from (I’d like to think) well meaning people who just don’t stop before they open their mouth.
1. What happened to you?
I don’t know – what happened? I missed it! Oh – you want to know why I use a wheelchair? Why don’t you just ask that instead? When you do ask me why I use a wheelchair, be prepared for my answer. I use a wheelchair because I can’t walk. Plain and simple. Why does anyone use a wheelchair? Trust me – despite what you may think, we’re not all in it for the parking. If you insist on repeating the original question, be prepared for my second stock answer. I angered a magician. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it! There is a polite way to ask why a person uses a wheelchair, but this question is not it.
2. Slow down – you’ll get a speeding ticket!
Really? You’re really going to go with the speeding reference? That’s not even a little bit funny, or original as I’ve heard it, oh, maybe 10,000 times before. And comparing me to a car or other 4 wheeled vehicle doesn’t make me want to go out with you. Yes, my chair moves fast. I like it that way. You seem to walk well, but I don’t feel the need to compliment you on that skill upon meeting you for the first time. And even if you walk well, you won’t catch me as I do 7 MPH down the street to get away from you.
3. You’re really pretty for someone using a wheelchair.
This may be the most backhanded compliment of all time. If I’m pretty, then I’m pretty, regardless of my mobility. There’s this huge misconception that people who use wheelchairs are unattractive, not fashion oriented, and sloppy. Well, unless you are hanging around me on a Sunday afternoon when I’ve decided to stay home in my pj’s and crochet while drinking wine and watching PBS, that’s not the case. The majority of people I know who happen to use wheelchairs care very much about their appearance and are very attractive people. Despite the fact they use wheelchairs. Or maybe IN SPITE of that fact. Depends on how you look at it. Bottom line – if you are going to give a compliment, then give a compliment. Leave the wheelchair out of it. How would you feel if I said, “You’re pretty handsome for someone who walks on their feet all of the time!” Or “Wow – you have such a cute smile for someone who can climb stairs!” It just sounds silly, right?!
4. Can you have sex?
Right here and now? With you? NO! If you don’t know me well, and we’re on a first date in a very crowded Starbucks (true story) and you are asking me that question, the answer will never be yes. Even though in reality the answer is YES! Just because I use a wheelchair does not mean I am not sexually active (sorry Mom and the older sisters who don’t want to think about that). People with disabilities have the same interest in sexual relationships as their non-disabled peers. We may need to be a bit more creative, but that just makes us more fun as a partner.
I understand that some people are uncomfortable around people who are different – and wheelchair users are different from the norm. Don’t worry if you have said or done these things. I try to assume good intent and usually keep my snarky remarks in my head.
Unless I can hit you with my chair before I break the speed limit and zoom away after running over your foot.