I use a wheelchair. At least once a week I overhear comments from well-meaning, but ignorant people about me. They express admiration at the fact I am doing mundane things such as grocery shopping or exercising. I’m tired of this misplaced "respect" or "admiration".
Starting With The Conclusion
These people’s world-view appears to be that people with disabilities are helpless and merit admiration & respect merely for doing everyday things. If you admire us for going on about our lives, you’re saying that we’ve exceeded your expectations of us. This directly implies that you expected very little from us in the first place. That is the part that really annoys. Because we have a disability, we are not expected or even capable to do everyday activities. That message is dangerous and destructive.
It would be completely different if you admired someone working on their fitness because it’s the good and healthy thing to do, regardless of ability or impairment. Don’t admire them "despite" or "because" of the wheelchair.
Comments At The Gym
I’ve lost count of the number of times people are impressed by the fact I do my own grocery shopping. But let’s forget the supermarket just now and talk about the gym. I go to the gym 4 or 5 times a week. I’m not the only one to do that, thousands of people go to the gym several times a week.
Two people made comments in the last month. The first was a teenager that elbowed his mates, pointed at me, and said something like "Hey there’s a guy in a wheelchair, how cool is that?". The second was a woman in her 30’s who looked at me, said something like "It’s so good to see people like you here", and then promptly burst into tears. The kid’s reaction was amusing. The woman’s reaction made me laugh, but it wasnt’ amusing.
Comment On Twitter
Today, I was made aware of a tweet by Frazier Tharpe:
"Damn there’s a wheelchair guy *and* a blind guy up in NYSC working on their fitness. Salute.”
I made a smartalec response to that, pointing out that: "I use a wheelchair, I’m at the gym 5 times a week. I even grocery shop. I don’t think that’s worth saluting". It wasn’t long before Mr. Tharpe started calling me "angry", "self-conscious fuck", and a "bitter fuck" (see transcript of his tweets below).
There’s a "tone" to comments that you quickly learn to recognise. I’m not referring to the swearing here. It’s hard to describe. It’s a bit patronising, it’s a bit ignorant, it’s uneducated and unaware. The people who make these comments are generally well meaning. That makes it harder for them to understand why we react badly to their comments. Yet when you call them up on it, they get upset really quickly. When you try to explain, they don’t listen. They stopped listening before you even began.
I don’t expect Mr. Tharpe to read this post, much less understand it. But he might surprise me. Shall I admire him if he does?
Frazier Tharpe’s Stream
The tweets here are listed oldest first.
- @vavroom @BlindMyths @adm_76 I’m very happy for you now stop being sensitive and taking my tweets too literally
- I’m getting so many angry tweets from paraplegics and blind people about my NYSC tweet the other day. Self conscious fuckers.
- @vavroom @blindmyths @adm_76 what was ignorant about it? I said salute b.c. Idk that I would have the same endurance.
- @vavroom @blindmyths @adm_76 you just chose to read it as ignorant and patronizing
- @vavroom sorry for the admiration then you bitter fuck
- @vavroom @blindmyths @adm_76 just cuz the tweets are public don’t mean you have to read em. Stick to your own timelines
- In a tweet battle with a paraplegic. I feel like @MattyBueller lol