Disability etiquette videos typically instruct normies on how to best engage with those of us who have disabilities, who are different. This approach, however, makes it feel like we — the people with disabilities — are the problem. It suggests we’re the thing to DEAL with, the thing to navigate, the problem that has to be solved. It’s as though we are so weird and alien that we fall beyond the realm of standard rules of human decency, respect and consideration, and therefore must create special lessons for everyone on how to approach us.
You’re telling me that a human of average intelligence and character can’t figure out that they shouldn’t illegally use accessible parking as a loading zone? Or they shouldn’t ask a perfect stranger in the elevator about overt physical scars that are clearly remnants of catastrophic trauma? Do we really think normies can’t figure out that comparing their two weeks spent using a wheelchair to our lifetimes of modified ambulation and identity overhaul is a no-no?
We — the people with the chairs, the walkers, the prosthetics and beyond — are expected to do so much: To navigate a world that often treats us like shit. To be forgiving and understanding when normies lean on us, pat us on the head, treat us like babies, and say rude and ignorant things. To brush it off, be “understanding” and constantly act from a place of love and empathy when people pity us, infantilize us, desexualize us, turn us into passive objects of their own inspirational journey, or diminish the complexity and wholeness of our lives. We are expected to do the work to make them feel comfortable and OK, while they can just sit back, watch a video and claim that it’s too much for them to put in the time, learn and care about how all these different people want to be treated.
The true hurdle of disability etiquette is the normie — the person who doesn’t think before they speak. The one who acts rashly or impulsively rather than taking a moment to observe the situation and consider, “Hmm, what is the respectful and human thing to do here?”
I was tired of spending my energy on educating normies on how they should behave … and therefore decided to put my energy instead into creating some valuable tips for my friends in the disability community on how to deal with the inappropriate comments, the ignorance, the apathy or the people who are unapologetically bold about the fact that they will speak or act disrespectfully, and they don’t care.
Etiquette Dilemma: Weak people who insist upon hugging you because they think you’re so strong.
Appropriate Response: Be friendly. “After all, everyone needs love,” Linton says, “and it presents the perfect opportunity for a cosmetology arts project.” Cue the scissors.
How to Deal With:
TSA Agents: The TSA spiel about what I call the “airport massage” is tedious when you’ve heard it for the 52nd time. “I will use the back of my hand on sensitive areas, do you have any external devices, do you want a private screening, blah blah blah …” It’s even more tedious when they are training and cautiously engage their novice TSA spidey senses to explore every crinkle of clothing while they disguise their own insecurity in safe drivel talk: “Oh, you’re off to San Diego? Sunny! Heh heh.” I’ve often thought of asking them to do my breast exam while they’re at it, or to check the skin on my butt while they’re back there.
You must simply keep in mind — as you watch the minutes tick on and the other passengers stream by — that while YOU don’t have heroin stuffed into your cushion, the elder lady in the wheelchair behind you just might. These blue-shirted warriors deserve to have at least 10 minutes of their lives feel significant, so just smile, avert your eyes as they cautiously caress your inner thigh for signs of a crossbow, and engage your calming breaths as they remove your shoes to test them … the ones that are in pristine shape because you haven’t walked anywhere in the last 16 years, much less through a warehouse filled with gunpowder. Maybe they should check the tires instead?
Online Dating Inquirers: How do you possibly respond to the New Agey guy who says you look “interesting,” asks why you use a handcycle rather than a foot pedal bike (despite your FIVE wheelchair pictures and reference of paralysis in your profile), and then implores in his third message that you meet his personal guru who miraculously taught himself to walk again through sheer mind training? What do you say to the guy who starts ranting about his other disabled friend who preys on his generosity and selflessness while ignorantly dismissing his own obvious narcissistic behaviors? And what about the guy who sends you a dick pic and wants to see your picture, but won’t deign to entertain any sort of real meeting because you are apparently not his type? The answer is, simply treat them as a research project in which you are the scientist and they are messed up weirdos about whom you can draw curious conclusions and make funny jokes. And when appropriate, respond to uncouth messages by typing “Barbaloots in their Barbaloot suits.” It throws them off enough to allow a clean getaway.
Inaccessible Places of Worship: For those religious establishments that don’t feel the need to invest in ramps for their sacred houses, keep in mind that what they offer inside can be accessed in numerous other places. A quiet focused environment? Sit under a tree. Wine and bread? Italian restaurant. Live music? The local bar. Community? Again, the local bar. A sense of charity and righteousness? Be kind to the homeless person on the corner. Everlasting life? The library. Frankly, sometimes being excluded is the blessing … it reminds you of all the other places in life where you can get inspiration.
People Who Decry Inaccessibility But Don’t Do Anything About It: You know the type. They watch you in a restaurant as you struggle to squeeze through tightly situated chairs or move kitchen supplies so you can get to the bathroom, or strain to see over the high top because there are no low tables. They might even say something to you: “Ugh, that’s really challenging for you, huh sweetie?” “Jeez, they really should make that easier for you!” But that’s all. They couldn’t possibly take the initiative to actually say something to the business owner to rectify the issue. They leave it at the comment and feel better about themselves for having noticed it.
As frustrating as it may be for us to continually deal with those who are all talk and no action, in their silence, we get stronger! It’s as if they are sitting eating cupcakes and watching crappy network TV while we climb rock faces and practice swordsmanship.
The Disability Etiquette Video to End All Disability Etiquette Videos*
*unless Regan does more of them … which she may …
You don’t need to have a wickedly dark sense of humor to enjoy The Disability Etiquette Video with Regan Linton, but it helps. Linton, a Shakespearian actor, skews the genre’s do’s and don’ts by turning it on its head. This is not a video for nondisabled people who have to be told that yes, we really are people just like them. No! As Linton says in the intro, “This video will give YOU — other people with disabilities — some simple etiquette tools for dealing with the ignorant people that we have no choice but to encounter in our everyday lives.”
Etiquette Dilemma: “I’ll just be a minute” parkers who steal accessible spots.
Appropriate Response: “So will I.”
Etiquette Dilemma: Folks who ask, “What happened to you?”
Appropriate Response: “What happened to YOU?”
How to deal with the “I’ll just be a minute” parkers who steal accessible spots? Deflate their tires, that oldie-but-goodie.
Bar dudes who make drunken lap dance jokes? Good thing your elbows are crotch-height.
Weak people who insist upon hugging you because they think you’re so strong? Be friendly. “After all, everyone needs love,” Linton says, “and it presents the perfect opportunity for a cosmetology arts project.” Cue the scissors.
Folks who ask what happened to you? Repeat the question:
“What happened to you?”
“What happened to YOU?”
“I mean your chair.”
“I mean your FACE.”
The video can be seen below (youtube.com/watch?v=DOncEUExdzI) and we heard a rumor that soon there may be a whole series. Watch our online news column for updates.
— Josie Byzek