When you see or meet someone who has a disability, if his or her disability isn’t the first thing you notice about him or her it is likely in the top five. That doesn’t make you prejudiced or insensitive. Our eyes note distinctive markers and our memories organize information by them. I, for one, have too much life to live to be truly bothered by your extra interest, even when it stretches to staring.
When you see someone who has a disability, you may wonder what disability he or she has and/or how he or she came to be disabled. This does not make you a bad person. Trust me. We all wonder.
But if you’re over the age of ten, please don’t approach a stranger and ask these questions or any derivitives of them.
If you’re thinking nobody really does that, you are wrong. Now some of the people who ask such questions are probably the same people who ask complete strangers when their (existent or nonexistent) babies are due and if they are breastfeeding them and give all sorts of unsoliscted advice, primarily in the form of horror stories.
There also seems to be a significant contingent among those who ask these questions that have no idea that these issues stretch beyond surface small talk and, if brought up in conversation by a stranger, are often offensive.
Most of the time, reluctance to share information about disabilities is not global. I, for example, have no problem sharing such information with people who already know me, even on a surface level. It’s definitely not a secret (at least for me). Somone might ask, I suppose, if it’s not a secret, why is it such a big deal?
Here’s the thing: we, who have disabilities, like to think we are so much more than a medical diagnosis. When you ask about our disabilities before even learning our names, you communicate otherwise. That makes sense, right? If not, the least you can do is blindly humor us on this point.
If you need another reason, there are at least two more.
First, personal medical information is just that–personal. We do not owe it to every stranger who is the least bit curious. I’m certainly not going to ask you how your last colonoscopy went!
Second, when we wait until you know us to share about our disabilities, we minimize the chances that you will make random mistaken assumptions about our abilities based on a disability diagnosis.
We know you’re curious about our obvious differences, but don’t ask questions about them until you have had a few other conversations with us. Thank you.