As a wheelchair user:
The social challenges I’ve faced have been constant.People continually stared when I was in public. Strangely it was adults that were the worst. Children stopped and stared and asked inquisitive questions, which I could handle, and if I was in talking distance I explained that I couldn’t walk very far, and it was very painful to do so. Adults on the other hand stared and pointed me out to their friends. After time my Mother used to get angry at these people and shout
“Take a picture it’ll last longer!”
At that point the adults became embarrassed and looked away.
- People frequently would walk in front of the wheelchair and either stop dead to stare or jump out of the way dramatically just in time. Comical for the first few times but after years of it, it gets very annoying.
People insisted on talking to my Mother or anyone else who happened to be pushing me at the time. It is a strange misconception that people who happen to use a wheelchair, have other disabilities or learning impairments.
When this happened my Mother would say:
“She does have a tongue in her head, and knows how to use it.”Adults would talk to me as if I were 2/3 years old, or bend down to talk to me so they could be eye level. I found this extremely patronising and said on several occasions:
“I am a teenager, not a baby!”
“I can see your face from where you were standing.”
As a long cane user:
Over the last 2 years that I have been using a cane I have had very similar experiences with people stopping and staring, jumping out of the way at the last minute, and speaking to the person I might be with rather than addressing me directly. As I am much older and more mature I tend to ignore these incidents, and realise that I shouldn’t allow myself to get aggravated with these people as I can’t see them and i’m not likely to notice them ever again!
Children have asked their parents about my “white stick” and again if I am in talking distance, I explain that I cannot see things clearly, and the cane is there to let people know I cannot see.
My main social challenges are interacting with new people; whether that’s talking to staff in a shop or restaurant I feel awkward because 9/10 times I can feel the uneasiness of the other person interacting with me.I always look at the persons face but if I am staring at their mouth or their forehead when i’m talking it’s obvious to them I can’t actually see them standing in front of me and i believe it makes them feel awkward too.
Making new friends has also been a challenge for the same reasons mentioned above, but the way I see it *ahem pardon the pun* 😉 they aren’t worth my time if they can’t get past my visual impairment.
Finding new places/ buildings is a stressor to me, I have to plan a route and use a a SatNav application to reach my destination, and i’ve heard people laugh if I walk into objects/ walls.
If people have seen me waiting to cross a road they have taken my arm without me asking, people have also picked up the end of my cane, or taken the cane completely off me to grab my hand to cross me over. With these incidents specifically I hadn’t necessarily noticed there was a person there as I was too busy concentrating on listening to the traffic and judging when it was safest to cross. I find it pretty bewildering and at some points stressful as they plonk me on the other side and walk off.Or most importantly they have taken the thing I need the most to aid me crossing the road safely, and sometimes it’s stunned and shocked me into silence.
My last social challenge was a sort of scary one; I was walking home from the local supermarket bags in hand, when I was approached by a guy who said hello, we chatted for a minute or two then I made my excuses to leave. The guy didn’t get the hint, and asked me for my number, saying how attractive I was. I explained I was flattered but I don’t give my number out to strangers. He was persistent saying he only wanted my number to be friends and chat, but I said I really must leave I’m meeting friends soon. I walked away. As I reached the top of the hill he came rushing up to me asking if I was meeting my friends in town, and if i needed a hand to get there. I politely declined but he continued to follow me, returning to our previous conversation about asking for my number and going on a date. At this point I was getting quite close to home and had to really insist I wasn’t interested, and I needed to go now. Eventually he stopped walking with me, to which I couldn’t be more happy about. I was close to my house, and knew I was safe, but I needed him to back off as I didn’t want to show him where I lived.
My heart was pounding as I got home, I knew deep down he wasn’t going to hurt me, he was just a guy trying his luck, but as a petite female who can’t see past her nose, I was genuinely worried he wouldn’t leave and therefore find out where I lived and potentially stalk me. Thank the gods that never happened!
I know some of you who are reading this might perceive my thoughts and reactions as rude and inappropriate, but if you could put yourself in my shoes for a day, you’d understand. I strive to be pleasant and polite when I am out and about, but it becomes frustrating and boring hearing, and seeing, the same things from the same people everyday. I think more needs to be done to educate children and adults on how to approach and speak to people with disabilities. The more we educate, the more we learn, and the more we can end the awkward surrounding disability!
I will also say that these are just my bad experiences of dealing with people interacting with me as a disabled person. I would like to input that from being in a wheelchair as a child and teenager, to becoming blind as an adult, my perceptions and attitudes towards people have changed, and I am far more reserved, and polite when interacting with new people. I attempt to be pleasant when out in public, and educate those around me, especially when children or adults have asked questions. I won’t stand for people patronising me or being ignorant, but the ways in which I will express it is in a mature manner, and diplomatically show them the errors of their ways. I’m not sure if it’s because I have a changed persona from my childhood, or I give people the benefit of the doubt now, but i’m very lucky that I have had far more happy, interesting and pleasant interactions and conversations with the public since I went blind.
If you’re worried about interacting with people with disabilities, check out SCOPE’s End The Awkward campaign 🙂
Thanks for reading, I know my posts can be pretty hefty. Feel free to comment below if you have any comments or questions on this weeks blog 🙂