Twice in one day

Do you ever have one of those days where you just want to shake a fist in the universe’s general direction?

A few weeks ago, I had the fairly weird experience of two different people trying to make the fact that I use a cane a topic of conversation (?) on the same day. Usually, when people feel the need to point out the obvious to me — that I use a cane as a mobility aid due to chronic pain — it happens pretty infrequently, maybe once a month. Twice in the same day, though, just felt strange.

Incident one: As I am waiting for the elevator in a building on my university campus, a young woman approaches me and asks me why I use a cane. She’s curious about it, she mentions, because her mom uses one. I reply that I use it because I have chronic pain, and this seems to satisfy her curiosity. I feel oddly relieved when the conversation stops there.

Incident two: I am walking to a coffee shop, and I pass a row of garbage and recycling containers out on the sidewalk on a busy street. A guy rummaging through one of the containers picks that exact moment to look up; he sees me and yells out, “You’re a YOUNG DISABLED LADY!” I am too confused to respond, and keep walking.

I can hear the refrains now: Those people were just trying to be friendly! They didn’t mean anything by it! They were just trying to start a conversation!

Maybe, but that doesn’t stop having the fact that I move differently from most other people pointed out to me in a very obvious manner (as if I don’t already know that, what with using a cane and all) from being annoying as all get-out.

So, the next time you see a person who uses a mobility aid, service animal, or other assistive technology, please remember: If you have the urge to point it out to them and/or try to use it as a conversational springboard, chances are that you probably do not have to do this. We know that we use assistive devices, and that said devices may look odd to people who are not disabled. It’s cool. We totally get it. And, even if you don’t “mean anything by it” by pointing it out to us or trying to tell us about someone you know who also has a disability, we might read your enthusiasm as something else entirely.

About Annaham

Annaham is a feminist with several disabilities who occasionally updates her personal blog. She currently lives in California's Bay Area with her partner and a silly little dog named Winston. She is currently getting her Masterโ€™s in Women and Gender Studies; her research interests include disability and cultural/social attitudes surrounding it, the body, gender, nontraditional media, art of all kinds, and social equity. You can reach her by emailing Annaham at disabledfeminists dot com.

6 thoughts on “Twice in one day

  1. It must be bad if I’m thinking ‘you ONLY get it twice in a day?’ or ‘that’s unusual?’…But I will never understand the obsession with people to know what’s wrong with you? And even when it’s painfully obvious that you don’t want to answer they continue needling until they get a ‘satisfactory’ answer.

  2. Eh, I know it’s annoying, irritating… but maybe it does good to remember that some people can be so clueless as to state the utterly obvious.
    Case in point: As a creative visual aid for a presentation at school, I once drew something complex on my face. The class in question was the second one of the day. The teacher in my first class allowed me to put on the face paint in her class. On the way between classes, at least two people told me I had something on my face. One person seemed concerned and asked me if I knew I had something on my face. I had used at least three colors and the shape was recognizable and very visible. It would be utterly amazing if I didn’t know it was there — yet some people felt compelled to mention the art as if I didn’t know it was there.
    I’m not sure if it helps any. I’m a young woman with a walker or wheelchair. I know it’s annoying. But in any case, such remarks are hardly limited visible disability. Seems some people just feel they need to mention the utterly obvious. Silly people.

  3. I get almost the opposite in that it seems almost as if they don’t see my disability when I’m using my assistive device. I have a cane that unfolds into a three-legged seat. I use it anywhere I have to wait (instead of “standing” in line I “sit” in line). One of my medical problems is orthostatic intolerance. I don’t regulate my blood pressure and heart rate properly so my blood pressure can drop suddenly while standing.

    Based on the comments that I get about my seat I think most people must think I’m lazy instead of disabled. Employees behind the counter, or at the check-out line, or wherever I’m waiting so often say something like, “Boy, I wish I had one of those!” or “I need a seat like that!” Usually I just smile and try to say something like, “It’s pretty much a requirement due to my medical condition. I’m sure glad I found a seat like this so I can still get out of the house.” But a few times, although I know it is a little bit sarcastic, I have responded in a joking tone, saying something like, “Well, I’ll trade you my seat for a body that still works!”

    Now, I guess it is possible that they have some sort of disability that I can’t see. But from my point of view they are standing at a cash register, and are able to work at a job that requires them to stand for hours at a time, so it sure doesn’t seem like they need a mobility aid of any kind. Yeah, maybe they are feeling tired, or their feet hurt, but that’s not the same thing as being disabled and literally being unable to get out and about without using this device.

    These same people never say to the person in the wheelchair, “Boy, I wish I had a chair with wheels! And look, it’s electric!” And yet, to me, they say that they wish they had this cane that folds into a seat. I know that they are speaking without thinking, and they are just trying to make conversation, but really, saying that they want (or NEED!) a seat like mine is very strange.

    Thanks for giving me the opportunity to vent, and I hope I didn’t ramble on too long! ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. I should add that when people come up to me to ask where I got my folding cane/seat, because they know someone else with an illness or disability who really does need a device like mine, I am more than happy to tell them where I got mine or how to use google to find other stores that sell them.

  5. This reminds me of a very similar situation I’m in a lot. I have a service dog and for whatever reason about every two weeks or so on campus a wide-jawed person will exclaim to me “That is a dog!” My response is usually just “Yes, a service dog” while the person just stands there staring. I’ve been here for almost three semesters now, so it has gotten old. I don’t mind questions about my service dog, but I just don’t get the people who make a declaration and then just stand there staring. When I just have my cane I get asked about my “accident” a lot; if I’m particularly miffed about (depending on) the level invasiveness, I just tell them my my accident was my birth!

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