We can all think of a time when we made an innocent comment to someone thinking it would have a positive reaction, but instead had the opposite effect. Maybe we thought we would be a little cheeky and ask the tall person near us, “how’s the weather up there?”, only to get a half-smile or confused look. I’ve made MANY of these “well-intended” comments and still cringe when I think about them. I believe most people have genuinely good intentions behind their words. Still, the impact can result in head shakes, eye-rolls, and irritation from a person hearing them. So this brings me to my list of “10 Comments Wheelchair Users are Tired of Hearing“.
So let’s get started!
1.“Slow down, there’s a speed limit around here!” I’ve heard this comment on multiple occasions. Although I can appreciate a good dad joke here and there, it usually makes me feel awkward and results in a half-smile or doing my best fake laugh.
2.”Can I get a ride?” Although it may seem like an eco-friendly alternative, my wheelchair does not double as an Uber service.
3.”What happened to you?” (before saying hello). So this question might be acceptable if you know the person or, at the very least, have said hello first. But in my experience, it’s often asked by complete strangers, and usually in a confined space, like an elevator or somewhere I can’t immediately escape. Asking the cause of why someone uses a wheelchair is complicated, as every person who uses one is diverse and has different comfort levels. Some people are happy to share their stories. Others may find it painful to relive the trauma that resulted in an injury. So at the very least, start by saying “hello” 🙂
4.”Wow, that’s so inspiring [insert mundane activity].” This comment usually comes after I’ve completed a simple everyday activity, such as crossing the street or grabbing groceries. To me, the undertone is that there are low expectations for what a person with a disability can accomplish. So unless you find it inspiring when EVERYONE crosses the street, I’d save that comment for a more impressive accomplishment.
5.”Get well soon.” Again this one is usually delivered with kind intentions. But in my opinion, it assumes that all people that use a wheelchair are sick and need to “get better.”
6.”You should get a dog to pull you.” I don’t even have a dog, so I find it entertaining that I have heard this on multiple occasions when I am near a dog. Maybe people see comic relief as they envision it being similar to a dog sled – but it usually results in an awkward laugh.
7.”I broke my leg once, so I totally understand what you’re going through.” I appreciate the intention of a person trying to find common ground through a struggle they have faced. But I could do without hearing about that one time you were on crutches for a few months, as you try to equate that to me using a wheelchair for most of my life. As Ariana would say, thank you next!
8.”You must love going down hills!” Sure going down hills was slightly thrilling as a child, but I am older now and need more than an incline to spark joy in my life.
9.”I bet if you tried harder, you could walk again.” Last summer I was at a bar when a guy came up to me and said: “you know the brain is a powerful thing, I bet if you thought really hard, you might be able to walk again.” This comment left me dumbfounded and wondering where this guy got his impressive medical degree from.
10.”You are really pretty/smart/talented for a person in a wheelchair.” This one has me smiling at the first and then leaves me feeling like I just got whiplash. Honestly, just cut the last part out, and you are good to go!
Ok, vent over! But in all seriousness, this list isn’t meant to criticize anyone who has made these comments. We have all said things in hopes of connecting with others only to see it didn’t quite land as we expected. I think it can be helpful to look deeper into the intention vs. impact of our words. It can also be useful to ask yourself, would you make these comments or ask these questions to an able-bodied person? If the answer is no, then you might want to reconsider. Hopefully, we can all work to replace these tiresome comments with more thoughtful and creative ones!