Sunday, October 04, 2015

The Disability Voice

I heard his voice. Not because he was yelling, or because he was being unduly loud, but because he was speaking with quiet emphasis.

I knew, without seeing him, that he was a wheelchair user. Not because he, or the party he was speaking to made reference to the chair, but because of the words he was using.

I could not hear the other person but I knew that they were a non-disabled person desperately wanting to help. I knew this only because of the tone and the words of the person whose speech I could hear.

We were grocery shopping and I was coming up an aisle that would end just where the fridges are for milk when I heard him speaking. He spoke with the "disability voice" which combines these features:

-- gentle insistence that rose to firm insistence that was precisely calculated such that it couldn't be considered rude

-- just the right amount of gratitude for an offer of help that was being turned down

-- a tone of voice that said both 'I appreciate your offer of help' and 'I don't need your offer of help'

-- weariness at having to say the same words over and over again

-- a slight, almost not noticeable, anger that didn't know where to go because he was turning down someone's determined and insistent kindness

I came round the corner, and sure enough, there was a man with a disability with a bag of three bags of milk in his hands and a store basket on his lap. He looked over at me, I looked at him, he said, "Hi, how are you?" like we were old friends. I greeted him back. At that the other person said, "Well, if you are sure you're OK, I'll leave you to talk to your friend," then quickly left.

"Thanks," he said.

"No biggie," I said.

He put the milk into the basket and off he went, without needing a lick of help.



clairesmum said...

that's what friends are for! your ability to notice and write about moments of connection and disconnection in daily life is a wonderful gift, reminding me of the importance of doing the same.
hope you and Joe are well.

AnyBeth said...

Maybe I don't have the same "disability voice". Mine didn't start with disability, it came from sexism, largely fighting for my right to science (beginning at age 8). It was there I learned polite but increasingly firm-to-harsh refusals of unwanted "help". And smiling, sweet-sounding, deliberately emphasized angry syllables. And snark/sarcasm for those who can't seem to get it any other way. I try to be a little more polite (or retain the politeness for longer) since unfortunately more people simply don't get disability (including that we are people our objections matter), but I know some people with different disabilities who think I'm too harsh too soon. They tend to start sounding sweeter than I ever would save being patronizing, and give one more sweet-as-pie response. I do what's me, what works for me and what I can live with.

Personally, I think I need to develop a way to deal with egregious disability-related acts. The stranger to thought it best to walk within a pace of me because he thought I might fall. (And backed off a single step when I ask him to please go away.) The man who, after two polite refusals, pulled my wheelchair from my hands to (badly) put it in my vehicle himself. The guy at an event who thought it'd be fun to say hi by tipping me backward 90deg. Maybe I should practice a harsh, loud, "STOP!" I want to be prepared to regain control if people decide to behave in those sort of ways. There is a time to be polite and patient; there is a time for "NO!" Heh, Dave, I guess maybe you do seminars about similar things at least of a different basis. I think it's kinda the same, at least when things get or are close to getting physical. Because the person needs to know it's absolutely not ok and any bystanders need to know you may need help in dealing with this person who is unwilling to respect personal boundaries. I, for one, need a little of that voice.

Anonymous said...

Are you telling me that ungrateful sort didn't "NEED" to make a walkie feel important? The nerve of some people's children!

wheeliecrone said...

Yes, because we ALL know each other.

Rachel in Idaho said...

I have to wonder how much of a difference the chair can make in people insisting on helping. I do have to tell people "no thanks" pretty often, but I don't get the pushback you are talking about. I don't doubt it for a second! But I have very rarely had to say anything past, "I'm fine, thanks, I'll let you know if I need anything," in a store when people ask if I need help.

It sure would be nice if stores would quit putting things I want to buy out of my reach. I almost never get asked if I need help when I actually DO. *sigh*