Every so often I read a story about someone with a disability who is annoyed by the way someone treated them. So and so said this, or so and so did that and it was so rude! They should really know better! Well last I checked there is no specific etiquette book for how to treat people with a disability. For the most part people are just trying their best and regardless of what the action is, I figure if the intent seems to come from a good place, then any annoyance I have by someone else’s actions is my own problem.
Sometimes there is no right way to act because what is OK for one person is not OK for another… and on some occasions what is OK for the same person one day is NOT OK the next- case in point: me.
When Patrick and I started dating and he introduced me to his friends one of the first questions anyone would ask me was: are you a runner too? Now my walk was nowhere near as bad then as it is now, but it was still pretty messed up. I think I generally always had a somewhat drunken look to my gait back in those days. Vocally I responded, “no, I prefer yoga.” Mentally I was rolling my eyes and asking, “are you blind?!”
Jump forward five years with the last three including me swimming pretty intensely over the summer, and I feel the total opposite when it comes to people asking about my swimming. Last summer I was at the tri club’s weekly lake swim and my friend Tina and I ran into some of her friends. After the swim we went to a restaurant for dinner and the ladies were talking about how many laps they did. Tina’s friends only managed 1 or 2, but Tina and I had done 4 laps. The ladies asked Tina how many laps she did- 4 and were in total awe of her, “that’s great! Good for you! Oh wow, I don’t think I could ever do that many!” No one asked how many laps I did. Tina was trying to add in, “Kerry swam 4 too,” but no one heard. Not only had I done 4 laps, but I finished before Tina.
Fast forward 8 months from that night and I am out with one of the ladies who went to dinner with us. We were talking about training and she mentioned that she and Tina were doing a cycle class together on Monday nights. We talked a bit about the triathlon training Tina was doing this season and she mentioned “Tina is a pretty good swimmer, isn’t she?” I could not think of a way to say, “yes, but I am better” without sounding like a total ass so I just went with a simple, “yes.” Also, Tina has been training a LOT more than I have lately so I am nervous that I am not going to be the better swimmer this summer!
Two relatively similar scenarios. One left me embarrassed, and crying on the inside to have to admit, no I don’t run- because I can’t, you moron! The other leaving me equally hurt, but mostly angry at essentially being excluded. The unasked question is what I wished for 5 years ago and now that it has come true, I am still unhappy.
So if you are concerned about what to say or how to act around someone who is different from you in some glaring way, don’t be. No matter how polite you think you are being, you are probably going to annoy someone somewhere. The way they respond to it is their problem not yours.