Guest post: Especially zogborst

Originally a comment by latsot on Don’t call me a basket case.

I found the forbidding of ‘blind’ as in ‘blind study’ especially zogborst.

As a disabled person and wheelchair user I find that words don’t matter nearly so much as attitude. Blind people know they’re blind and if I ever forget I can’t walk it’s going to hurt when my face bounces off the deck. We’re generally not shy about our disabilities or embarrassed about them. We’ll joke about them and are happy for others to do the same providing, as tigger said, the intent is humour rather than abuse. My friend Henrietta, who some of you might know from Twitter, is paralysed from the chest down and has the biggest collection of unfortunate wheelchair accident gifs I’ve ever seen. She finds them hilarious. She’s right, they are. It’s a mixture of “yeah… done that” and “he totally deserved it”.

Those I’ve spoken to about this agree that we’d much rather people be straighforward than mangle language without ever actually consulting us. It feels performative and it makes me personally feel as though I’m expected to be grateful.

A couple of illustrations about attitude:

I’m asked very often why I’m in a wheelchair. I don’t mind this at all and I don’t think it’s rude… providing I’m asked by someone I’m already having a conversation with. It’s natural to be curious and frankly it gives me something to talk about. My conversational skills are not the best. But if someone marches up and asks me out of the blue, it no longer feels like a matter of curiosity. It feels threatening. It happens more than you might expect. I’m also asked this quite a lot by people I’m arguing with on Twitter. There, the intent is very clearly malign and it’s definitely rude.

But a lot of people are shocked when someone asks me the question in good faith. They think it’s a topic that should be avoided, for some reason. Who’s that helping, exactly? Me or them? I’d much rather they just ask than pretend I’m not very obviously in a wheelchair and they’re very obviously wondering why.

I’m also asked quite a lot if I need help going up slopes and curbs. It’s easy to see in most cases that the intent is a genuine desire to help someone who might struggle and I always decline politely and warmly. These people are not being patronising, they’re going out of their way to offer help because of simple, honest empathy. It’s not offensive at all.

It is offensive when people grab the back of my chair and push me up the slope without warning or permission. Again, this happens a lot more often than you’d think. It happened when I was doing the Great North Run, for goodness sake! Would anyone just pick up another runner and carry them for a bit, all the time grinning to their friends? It happened in London a couple of weeks ago and when I reacted with shock and some anger, the man was furious at me since he was “only trying to help”.

Was he, though? Was he really? Or was it a performance? His reaction suggests the latter. I don’t like being used as a prop. And if you hang your bag on the back of my chair in the tube or at a bus stop so you don’t have to carry it (yep, happens surprisingly often too) then you deserve the elbow that is about to make contact with your testicles.

So don’t walk on eggshells around us. Make a joke about us rolling our chairs over eggshells, if you like. Just don’t joke about our being unable to walk on eggshells, unless you know us quite well. And don’t alter language on our behalf, it just mildly embarrasses us.

I understand the need for somewhat performative language in many areas. It’s a sign that people are paying attention to issues without having to address them explicitly and personally. It’s a signal that everyone has understood the tone a conversation will take and the boundaries that have been set. And it’s an agreement that some words and phrases are unacceptable for cultural or historical reasons. It’s when people go out of their way to invent offence on behalf of other people that we get idiocy like the ‘blind’ example above.

Wait, I’m probably not allowed to say “idiocy”, am I?

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