Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Yesterday we had a conversation, in a pub, with someone who was talking about transatlantic cruises. This is something I've always wanted to do, I think it would be astonishing and incredibly relaxing to cross an ocean in a great big boat. This fellow goes on cruises at a rate and frequency which is a little astonishing and as a result he knew a lot about the boats and the entertainment offered.

As he was telling us about the 'buffet' I retreated into myself to wait. Everyone who goes on a cruise ship talks about the buffet, always at some length, so instead of listening I was getting ready to ask about issues regarding accessibility. I zone back in when the conversation about plates with piles of food seems to be ending. But before I could ask, he shifted into another topic about the boats so I listened, and waited.

Suddenly he is talking about going into one of the bars on the boat and finding it full of people with disabilities. He said it was like a cafe at Lourdes. "There were scooters and walkers and canes and crutches everywhere!!" He laughed and laughed. Then he moved on to telling us about a woman with a disability who was on one boat ... and in order for us to understand what she looked like he leaned back, dropped his head, opened his mouth and made kind of a groaning noise. The story he was telling was about her wheelchair and how she used it on the boat.

He noticed that I wasn't laughing at his little display, his little funny mocking performance.

I just looked at him.

And looked.

And looked.

I didn't say a word.

I wanted him to register that he just made an insulting display about disability to a disabled guy.

He did.

I think sometimes when people do this they do it with a 'you're not really one of them so you can join in at mocking them' sense of conspiracy. I've had it happen from co-workers, years ago, who wanted to include me in nasty jokes about 'lisping and mincing' gay people - their offer to me was 'we'll exclude you and keep you safe from our mocking because you are more like us than like them - right?'

I didn't take the offer then.

Back then I used a lot of words.

Now, I know, when silence is sometimes the best, the very best, response.


Anonymous said...

Because I sometimes get flustered and have trouble finding an appropriate response in the heat of the moment, I sometimes pre-rehearse interactions so I won't be so flustered if they come up.

If anybody says "Oh, but you're not like *those* [slurs]!" (assuming the slur they're using is targeted at a group I'm part of) I hope to have the presence of mind to respond "Yes, I am. I'm EXACTLY like those [slurs]."

Janielle said...

If you ever go on a cruise let me know how you make out. I'm in a wheelchair and live in New York. Let me know when is the best time to go to Canada, I would like to visit and explore.

wheeliecrone said...

Oh yes, indeed. I use silence, while looking them directly in the eye. I find that they slow down and sometimes, they try to reverse what they are saying, right in the midst of their story. I just maintain that eye contact.
Then, if it is possible, I leave the room.
If it is not possible to leave the room, I just say nothing, and maintain eye contact - but usually by that time the other person is looking everywhere away from me, and is talking about something completely different.
Silence can be quite confronting, when properly applied.

Anonymous said...

It really pisses me off when people try to imitate people with disabilities. Mocking their speech, their gait,their stims or whatever difference they may have. I find it especially disgusting to see direct support providers engaging in such behaviour. The eye contact method is also effective when folks drop the R word in conversation... how awkward for them. ASSHOLES!

Ettina said...

What's wrong with imitating people with disabilities?

When I was younger, I often mimicked people with disabilities in order to understand them better. I'd fold my leg up in my pants and pretend I only had one leg, or I'd lock a joint and pretend I couldn't move it, or close my eyes and pretend I was blind. Whenever my Mom caught me doing this, she'd tell me off and say I was making fun of disabled people - but honestly, I wasn't! I was trying to imagine what it would be like to have one of those disabilities.

It makes me sad that, because of bigots mocking people, imitating an oppressed group is automatically assumed to be mockery. Kind of like blackface - in Japan, blackface is used by Japanese fans of black culture, who have no inkling of the racist connotations it has in the West. They're just admiring rappers and such and trying to look like them.

theknapper said...

Yes silence can be very powerful.
Just toget back to wanting to go on a cruise.....wasnt there talk a few years ago when you were in Maine about asking folks if they'd be interested in a wksp put on by you on a cruise ship or am I hallucinating???!!!!

Dave Hingsburger said...

I don't remember there being a suggestion of doing a workshop on a cruise ... but there is something in the far recesses of my mind that sounds vaguely familiar. What an odd idea though.

theknapper said...

I remember there was a questionaire at the end of the course. It could be fun.

Ianto Jones said...

Just for you to *enjoy* a cruise, I have heard wonderful things about the accessibility of the Disney Cruise Line.
More information is available here:


I haven't been on a cruise, but many people on the Disney blogs have travelled successfully with them.