How should I act when I meet a disabled person at a social gathering? There it would be normal to say, “hi”, yet at what point, if at all, should I mention the disability, and what can I say that’s neither hurtful, nor annoying, nor tactless?
All of life is a learning curve – and mine has been perpendicular, at times! Being disabled offers no special access in itself to wisdom, tolerance or kindness. But, with the benefit of some hindsight, I might say that meeting people at social gatherings is no different from meeting people while out walking, or at the supermarket. Really, people don’t change, just because they gather together, though they might be drinking and laughing a bit more than usual….
Do you like this person? Then talk to them. Do you see them alone and feel regret that they are sitting by themselves? Then make a point of introducing yourself, “Hi, nice to see you here, I’m Alison…” and see where the conversation takes you.
By and large, it’s a safe bet that people who self-identify as impaired in any way, would rather not. So questions like, “What’s wrong with you?” “What happened to you?” or “What’s that all about, then?” are not our favourite topics of conversation. Best leave them out, and kick off with something ordinary and inclusive, like, “Can I get you a drink?”, “Is this crap music or what?” or “What do you think of Donald Trump’s nomination as the republican candidate for the next presidential election campaign?” (On second thoughts, maybe avoid politics until you can trust them not to be upset.) (And don’t try saying all that if you’ve had a few too many.)
The idea that a disabled person deserves special treatment makes me cringe. We do not need or want special treatment, though our particular challenges mean that we would like to be recognised as we are, allowed to participate fully in the world, and offered the tools to do so. We have the right to be happy, just as everyone else expects to be. But without extra consideration, time and resources to make that possible, happiness is much harder to reach, while we will lag behind and lead teeny tiny lives, narrow and constrained by the complete futility of trying to keep abreast of the rest.
What a waste that is. Only recently, I finally understood, I can do what you do, it just takes me longer to do it and there is no shame in taking twice as long as you do. There is no shame whatever in being disabled, and if a lovely guy goes to a party and starts to chat, I don’t give two hoots whether he has one arm, blond highlights or a funny accent.
People with impairments may feel self-conscious, but so may a shy person, or a woman wearing a new dress, or someone unsure about their latest contact lenses. If you treat a person with impairments just as you would treat anyone else, that is the best you can do, and all that anyone can hope for.