As a girl who has lived her whole life with a physical disability, I’ve heard my fair share of interesting questions and comments about my lack of a left arm below the elbow. It’s a good thing I’m not easily offended, because some of the things people have said are a bit of a doozy. So, I’ve compiled a list of the 10 best and most memorable things I’ve heard to date…
“Do you tilt to one side when you swim?”
Before I joined the local swim team when I was 10, the mother of two other little girls taking swimming lessons asked me this question. First of all, rude. Secondly, I don’t tilt. And I don’t swim in circles. I swim just fine, thank you.
“How do you write?”
I’m assuming people are referring to the physical act of putting pen to paper. But seriously, how many hands do YOU use to hold a pencil?
“Here, take my seat.”
People on the subway are always eager to offer up their seat for me when they notice my arm. I can appreciate this nice gesture, but it’s not like there’s anything wrong with my legs. So I’m fine standing.
“Does it hurt?”
I get this question a lot, actually. And the answer is, “No, my arm doesn’t hurt.” I’m not walking around in excruciating pain, so don’t worry about that.
“Don’t worry — you’ll find someone to love you just as you are.”
Now this is just insulting. It implies that you somehow see me as less worthy of love or a relationship because of my disability. And that’s not the case. I’m currently with someone (who’s awesome, by the way), but I’ve never really had trouble getting a date.
“I heard about this new bionic arm they’re building….”
That’s great! Now call me when it’s available to the public and won’t set me back $2 million.
“I heard about this athlete/model/actor who did something really amazing….”
This is nice because it means someone is thinking about me, but I never know how to respond to it. So I just nod my head and smile awkwardly.
“Can you have sex?”
I’m pretty sure EVERYONE with a disability has heard this question at some point in his/her life. And I’m not even going to dignify it with an answer.
“You’re so inspirational.”
Ouch. I’m not an after-school special. My life is pretty fantastic. When you find me “inspirational” for no other reason than the fact that I have one hand, it comes off as pitying and condescending. Calling someone inspirational is tricky because it’s not always a bad thing. The rule of thumb: If you are inspired by something a person with a disability does, don’t say anything unless you would be just as inspired if the person didn’t have a disability.
“What happened to you?”
While this is a totally valid question, the way it’s phrased often sounds negative. Nothing happened to me, technically. I was just born without the hand. That’s it. End of story.
So the moral of this blog post? Don’t be afraid to ask questions about a person’s disability, but make sure you think about how your questions will sound. Curiosity is totally acceptable, but awkward/weird comments will probably just end up in a post like this one.
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–By Caitlin from Stream of Caitlinness
P.S. More disability misconceptions.
[First photo via Pinterest, second photo taken from Caitlin’s Facebook page]