Forget Emily Post and Miss Manners! After 35 years with quadriplegia, I don’t worry much about etiquette. Given my physical limitations, I do what I need to do however I can. Other folks with spinal cord injuries can relate, but my methods sometimes draw stares from those without disabilities. Over the years I’ve learned to do etiquette my way. Here are seven ways an inaccessible world requires responses that aren’t taught in finishing school:
1. I drink all types of drinks through a straw.
Hot or cold, breakfast, lunch or dinner. I sometimes even drink my soup through a straw. You can imagine how well that goes over in a fancy restaurant. But there are those who get it. On a cruise, I was stunned when, on the second night at dinner, there were straws cut to size for my wine glass, water glass and coffee cup. The waiter got a generous tip and my gratitude.
2. I bring plastic silverware everywhere I go because I can’t use metal silverware.
They are too heavy for my limited grip. The majority of restaurants understand, but some waiters look at me like I am violating the cardinal rule of a perfectly set table.
3. If I order wine, I ask for a stemless glass.
One sip out of the straw and a glass with a stem will go flying. A stemless glass seems like better manners than wine spilled everywhere. Again, to heck with the perfectly set table.
4. I’m lucky to live in a city with accessible transportation.
But please, subway elevators are for individuals who need them. It boggles my mind that someone capable of using an escalator would opt for the elevator in front of someone who has no other option. I’m not ashamed to push to the front and tell nondisabled individuals to let me go first.
5. Happy hour prices are great.
But in many restaurants, the discounts are only available in the bar area, and I’ve been in many situations where the bar area is not wheelchair accessible. Unbelievably, I have been told that I am not eligible for happy hour prices because my party is seated in the restaurant area. Sometimes, insistence and reason prevail, and happy hour prices are extended to us. Other times, happy hour is not so happy.
6. When making a hotel reservation, I go into detail about the need for a wheelchair accessible room with an accessible bathroom and a roll-in shower.
I still frequently wind up in an inaccessible room. Oftentimes I arrive and there is a tub instead of a roll-in shower. When that happens, I’m not afraid to let the front desk know about it. I usually leave with a free stay for my inconvenience, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that I couldn’t take a shower.
7. For some reason, individuals taking my order in a restaurant or on a food line assume that I can’t hear or understand because I am sitting in a wheelchair.
Usually the person asks my friend or my attendant standing next to me, “What does she want?” in a loud voice. I respond loudly by saying, “She would like …”
As a result of my disability, I need to live my life on my own terms. I shop, eat out, take trips and participate in my community. While I may do things differently, I am entitled to my own etiquette rules so that I can live my life like everyone else. If you are considerate and respectful to others, that’s all the manners you need.