How to annoy a wheelchair user.
"Does she take sugar" and variations thereof. The message of exclusion, and inferiority of the person with a disability.
But a few weeks ago I learned something interesting.
I was at a E's 30th Birthday party. There was a Disco, we danced to cheesy music and had a great time. E is also a wheelchair user. We were the only two wheelies there. There were a mix of people on the dance floor, but part way through I realised something. I was monopolising the birthday girl. It wasn't deliberate, it was just that she was on my level - eye contact was natural and easy. Someone to laugh with at song choice, or sing along with, someone to make comments to about the event, the music, the other dancers - whatever.
Even when dancing in a small group, my comments were usually made to E. Talking to the 'tall people' was much more effort so without thinking, my comments, grins and interactions all happened on my level.
In breaks between dancing I sat with various groups of people - who were sitting down, and enjoyed it. And so did they - I think :D
Then it hit me:
'Does she take sugar' might sometimes be a statement of assumption that I am inferior, but how often is it an unconscious act of 'eye contact on my level' rather than 'person with a disability is a non-person'? Had I been guilty of the same? Had I been sending out messages that said 'I exclude you from my conversation for being a non-wheelie'?
So I put some effort in to including those non-wheelie people in my happy little dancing world. It was fun, but surprisingly hard work to remember to look up with my smart comment -rather than just catch E's eye and throw the comment across.
And now? I determine to remember whenever there is a 'Does she take sugar' moment, that perhaps it is a 'dancing at my height moment' and not assume I am in the company of a prejudice ejit - just someone who, like me, subconciously chooses to comment to someone at their own level. Yes I may take steps to include myself in the conversation, or gently remind them of my presence - but not out of anger or bitterness.
Because, after all, if I behave in exactly the same way - without any intention of upsetting or belittling, who am I to take offence?