“So, did you walk into town? Oh! I meant ‘wheel into town’ – well, you know what I mean…”

Guest post from Zoe Lloyd, a disability awareness trainer with Enhance the UK.

Disability awareness trainer Zoe LloydWell, this is awkward. As a wheelchair user, I have been in this kind of situation many times. Personally I don’t find it awkward,
but I’m pretty sure the person who says it wants the ground to swallow them up.

When trying to talk to a disabled person, lots of people feel hyper-aware about the words they are using, and worry about saying the wrong thing.

It really doesn’t have to be this way – most disabled people I know don’t have a massive chip on their shoulder about language and terminology and can laugh about things. (Obviously offensive language and derogatory remarks are another matter).

I’ve also experienced the ‘does she take sugar?’ scenario. I had been going to the same hairdresser for years. But when I became a wheelchair user, suddenly one of the workers couldn’t look at me and had to ask my mum how I liked my tea!

To think she had known me before, yet the fact I was sitting in a wheelchair made her act differently towards me, was quite hard to understand.

No wonder, then, that some strangers in the street find it hard to meet your eyes.

I am a trainer for Enhance the UK, a charity which – among other things – delivers disability awareness training to schools and workplaces.  All of our trainers are disabled, and we are successful, fun, positive people.   We make our training fun and interactive – and as honest as possible. We can give candid answers from our own personal experience and help people challenge their fears, concerns and awkwardness around disability.

Most fear is a product of ignorance, and we hope our training helps people to look past their colleagues/pupils/clients’ disability and see them for who they are as a person.

Honest, open communication with disabled colleagues is far better than making assumptions. That way we can get over any awkwardness within minutes, rather than worry about it for months.

And stumbling over those everyday phrases usually makes things more awkward rather than less. For example, people have said to us that they’ve felt bad after saying things like ‘Do you see what I mean?’ to a blind person.

Maybe over time, you might end up avoiding such phrases automatically with your blind colleague – but if you forget, it’s fine!

The greater inclusion of disabled people on TV over the past few years has helped show people that disability isn’t something to be scared of. Channel 4’s The Last Leg is a perfect example. Barriers are being broken down, and long may that continue.

Now, I’m just going to take my dog for a wheel – sorry, a walk.

6 thoughts on ““So, did you walk into town? Oh! I meant ‘wheel into town’ – well, you know what I mean…””

  1. How true was Zoe remarks on changing if one thing struck a cord with me it was the bit about the hairdresser who suddenly changed my neighbours did just that in fact I got three poison pen letters from one of them I am still blackballed because to them because I had a major op to try and repair my spine they assume I am milking it for tons of sympathy like using a power chair and far worse getting motability car yes it has turned my elderly neighbours in to a sea of ignore the man some still stand and stare at me when my wife I go out in our car so I always blow them a kiss. Glad Zoe said about humour my contribution I am at talks and demos with my assistance dog say my wife has my life insurance in her handbag and is for every calculating it to see how much she will get when I kick my clogs. Some find that most distasteful but it is my forces black humour to the fore, ask Dame Tanya who roared with laughter in a cinema when she watch a film with a man in wheelchair drunk trying to propel himself up the road suddenly he flipped over the back she roared with laughter only to be greet by abuse from a woman in the front of her saying how cruel to laugh at that poor man, O for god sake lighten up lady this reminds me of me getting out of bus I stupidly took it the wrong way and I flipped over not knowing where my chair was as it had wrapped around my legs all I was concerned about was where had my melons gone as all my shopping had spewed over the pavement there was one lady on the bus shouting and crying the man is died the man is died I tell I screamed back I am not you silly cow but you will be if you do not tell me where my melons are

  2. I always say.to my daughter in a wheel chair “don’t run off” because she has a habit of nipping off to look at something in a shop. A woman once said- errrrrrrrrr she cant RUN . I looked blankly and replied “and u can’t engage brain before mouth- howz that working for ya?” And we giggled and ran off

  3. My daughter too Corinne, and I also say “don’t run off” or “she’s legged it again”. when a similar comment was made I thanked her profusely for her kind free expert diagnosis, asked if she was a private or NHS Pediatrician and if we could come to her next clinic for more advice cos I’d also been wondering why Siouxi couldn’t talk, learn, communicate or understand the world like I do and had “Fit’s” so often.

  4. I always get funny looks from people when I say I’m just going to run into town (am paralysed on my right side so can barely walk with leg braces) . I actually use modified trikes, as they get me around quick and keep me fit, but so many times I get the comment of “you cant be disabled, both pedels are moving” I then have to point out that my bad side is completely locked in place and the pedals make my leg move! Not the other way around!
    I’ve did a radio interview with a blind lady and the first question was “how do you feel when people stare at you” she simply replied ” it doesnt bother me as I can’t see!” and we both burst out laughing untill the dj realised what he had just said.

  5. Oh yes! I know the change in people quite readily! I was knocked down when I was 11 (now 34), and lost my right leg from the hip down, so I have one butt cheek upon which to sit. Anyhow, I know we were all just kids, but one of my best mates had taken to patting me on the head. It took a while, but I snapped, telling her “Just cos I’m in a wheelchair doesn’t mean I’ve turned into a dog!” I still haven’t let her live it down, and it’s been 23 years *snickers*

    What bothers me so much more than awkward talk, to which I just arch a well-timed eyebrow, are those who come to sudden halt right in front of me while going down a steep bank. I also hate the shops that put advertising blackboards right outside on the flipping bank, and customers who walk right of said shops and just stand there stupidly putting their shopping away while grouping together in a gang of about three or four people. On a steep bank.

    The other annoyance is people with pushchairs taking up the disabled parking space (hee!) on an accessible bus. Stop being so flaming lazy and put the flipping chair down or move it to the other side. It’s not that blooming hard!

    Wow, I kinda ranted!! As far as awkward talk is concerned, as I say, I simply arch an eyebrow as the speaker stumbles and fumbles their way around the English language until I ask them if they need help. Oh, the looks I get sometimes… Heh heh heh. The people I love are the old men who are basically bar props in my local Yates. Oh, I never fail to laugh like a hyena around that lot! It gets me free and fresh veg from their allotments, which is another bonus, though Terry did say the other day I simply pimped my disability out for food.

    I thought it was hilarious, but there were some rather well-to-do women sat with their designer shopping bags, looking positively aghast! To this day, I’m still not sure if it was the word pimp that disgusted them, or the fact the word free was used in the same conversation…

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