The worst things that happen to people with special needs are that they are either overlooked (for jobs, etc.) or they are "looked over." Clerks in stores and even receptionists at hospitals look over the person and then overlook them, in an attempt to find a companion, or someone else with normal intelligence. Sometimes they get desperate and speak to the person in the wheelchair. Some find it necessary to call this person "dear" or "honey," regardless of age. Some find it necessary to speak loudly, as if a problem with a leg, back. or neuromuscular system
made a person hard of hearing. How insulting! How unacceptable!
Sometimes these condescending people are speaking down to someone with an IQ of 135, or even 145, which is near genius. It is all the person in the chair can do to keep his cool, and not verbally abuse these people. I overheard a doctor tell a patient, "If they cannot recognize your intelligence the minute you open your mouth, tell them, 'My IQ is in the superior range; you can speak to me directly!' " Rude? Very! But well deserved, and often necessary. I would be tempted to add to that answer ---"that is, if you think you have the vocabulary necessary!"
All of the above sounds bitter, but what it is is righteous indignation. Noone can assess the intelligence or value of a person with a physical problem by either looking, overlooking, or looking over. It is not acceptable behavior, no matter what the motive! If a person doesn't know how to deal with a person in a chair, that person doesn't know how to deal with anyone else.
Don't automatically do things for people who say, "No, thank you. I'll do that." Don't insist. If a door needs to be opened, and the person in a chair has a lap full of packages, open the door automatically, as you would if your friend had packages in both arms-with a
smile, not a condescending, "That's all right, honey"--when the person is obviously an adult.
In other words, please use common sense. Anyone can need a wheelchair at any time, for a variety of reasons. That person, whether you, a stranger-or your child, does not change. Wheels are wheels, whether on skateboards, cars, or bicycles. They make transportation easier. That's all. And please don't call a person "honey" or "dear, simply because he appears to have a physical problem. You are only making it more obvious how different he is from you. Few people with wheelchairs want special attention; fewer want pity. They play the hand they are dealt. They don't need the public to make them more aware of what they are handling, most often with a "s*** happens" attitude. They are not all Nancy Kerrigan, crying out, "Why me?" "Why me?"
I taught in a school for children with special needs ( up to and including 21 years old), and a person very close to me is in a wheelchair. I have seen all of the above and much more. I have other credentials, but I don't care to expand on them; it's not necessary. I just want to add that it is hard enough to deal with a physical problem, but thoughtless people make life so much harder! They add anger and depression to an existing problem. If you love your fellow human beings, please make it a point to learn what you can, and to put that in a nutshell, treat everyone with courtesy. You will make a huge difference in many lives.
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A dog, I have always said, is prose; a cat is a poem. ~Jean Burden