I am unsure how to write this blog, but I feel I need to address this subject as I come across this issue regularly. I often speak to school children and corporations, and in these cases I am happy to talk about my disability.
You can read about my disability and why I am disabled in a previous #DreamRoll blog. I am happy to share my story about my disability but please do not just come straight up to me and say "what's wrong with you?" or "what happened?"
These questions often come from more 'adult' sections of the public. Children don't generally ask these things but I often see them stop and stare at me. I'm out to change this, as it's rude and should not happen. Everyone with a disability has numerous stories about how people react around them, some good and others not so good.
So here is my list of top five things I have heard which you should not say to a person in a wheelchair.
"Careful, he might run you over."
One of the major issues I find, and one that occurs regularly, is that people will pull their child quickly aside as I approach and say: "Careful, he might run you over." No! No! I will not run your child or grandchild over, they are safe to walk past me on the street without stressing.
I still do not understand why people do this. It is not like I will veer left to deliberately crash into your child on the street. In my opinion, this causes children to get the wrong idea of people with a disability, which they will have for life. They'll think we are dangerous, which we most certainly are not.
As education continues in the disability sector and awareness of disability increases, people are seeing more disabled people around. The flip side of this is we are seeing more people saying inappropriate thing to disabled people.
Around 20 percent of the Australian population has a disability and 40 percent of those live below the poverty line. We have come so far in the past 30-40 years but we still have so far to go.
"Sorry, you can't come in here."
Number two on my list of things not to say to a person in a wheelchair is: "Sorry you can't come in here because you are in a wheelchair." This should never be said, as it is illegal to exclude anyone or deny entry.
"Sorry you can't do this activity because you are in wheelchair" is another phrase I hear regularly and should never happen. All venues and activities should be accessible and inclusive to all. If I hear this I am more likely to want to go inside or do the activity because I want to prove it is possible.
"Don't drink and drive."
Even just last weekend I was out catching up with friends and I heard a number of comments that should never come up in conversation. An example was: "don't drink and drive." I often hear this one when I'm out catching up with friends and have a drink in my hand. People make this joke about me 'driving' my wheelchair even with a glass of water. Bottom line, it's not funny at all in any situation.
"Don't speed" or "no speeding." I just shake my head at this and as I am getting older I am getting more frustrated when I hear this one. I should not have to hear this, it is not funny and no, my wheelchair is not a car and has not got an engine, so no, please don't say this to anyone.
"What happened to you?"
I regularly get strangers come up to me on the street or at an event and open the conversation with this line. No hello, or hi, or even a little conversation before asking. If you ask "may I ask what happened" then I am more likely to answer correctly or politely. If you just come straight up to me, point your finger at my legs and ask what happened, you are more likely to get a rude answer. I then have to explain why I gave it and people often don't understand how they were being rude.
Another no no. Please do not speak to the people I am with about me rather than directly to me when I am sitting right there. This is incredibly rude. I get this more regularly overseas, where people think my friends are my careers, but they speak to them in English when I can speak a little of the local language.
Saying any of these things to a person in a wheelchair is not funny at any time. No matter how you say it, it is just rude and no one ever wants to hear anyone making a joke or saying rude things to them.
I could go on forever about the things I have heard from people but I will leave them for future blogs. So please think before saying a "funny joke" to a person in a wheelchair because it may actually be rude.