Guest post from Tom, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.
I’m sharing a few awkward stories as part of Scope’s End the Awkward campaign – all have happened to me at least once, and some on multiple occasions!
I believe strongly in the social model of disability, and the only disability I have is the attitudes and barriers society places upon me.
“I’m just in my wheelchair for fun!”
I was shopping in Sainsbury’s last year when a stranger stopped me and said “Do you have a license for that?” (Meaning my wheelchair) so I said “I haven’t heard that one before!”
The man then added “How long have you been in that then, because many people are just faking it and don’t actually need a wheelchair.” To which I replied “I just do this for fun because I have nothing better to do!”
“Do take a seat…”
My first job interview was for an IT job in the NHS and I remember being quite apprehensive. I sat waiting to be called in before a lady came to greet me and said “Mr. Fadden would you please follow me to the interview room.”
When we got to the interview room I positioned my chair next to the desk, when she said “Mr. Fadden please do take a seat” to which I replied “that’s okay I brought my own!”
From that point on the interviewer didn’t know where to look, or what to say apart from “sorry”. I didn’t get the job but my nerves had disappeared from that moment on!
“Has he been in a car crash?”
I recently joined a gym and had to go for an induction. The instructor completely ignored me and said to my personal assistant (PA) “Are you his PA and are you here with him all the time?”
My PA turned to me and said “Tom am I here with you all the time?” The instructor’s face was priceless!
At a different gym and somebody came up to my PA in front of me and asked, “What happened to him has he been in a car crash or something?”
Before my PA could answer she added “He’s doing jolly well isn’t he” to which I replied, “Yes I am thank you!”
My own awkward moment
I want to share one final moment where I was the instigator of the awkwardness!
When I got my current job working for a disability rights organisation in Norfolk, I found myself working alongside a number of disabled people.
One of my colleagues is blind and I found I was subconsciously censoring myself, particularly around the words ‘see’ and ‘look’, for example I wouldn’t say “did you see that TV programme last night?” Or “have you had a chance to look at that email yet? “
I wasn’t sure of the best way to approach this with my colleague but in the end I tackled it head on and asked her what she would prefer. She said “To be honest if it sounds wrong to change it don’t because it’s just awkward.”
This does make a lot of sense. You wouldn’t say “Did you hear that TV programme last night?” or “Did you have a chance to listen to my email yet?”
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my blog. If you only take one thing away I hope that it’s to not be afraid to talk about disability, or to talk to disabled people! If you’re worried about what to say, just go ahead and ask!
Do you have an awkward story to share? Submit your awkward stories, and we’ll publish our favourites on our blog and social media.
Find out how Scope is ending the awkward this summer.