I was asked a question in a seminar that I was giving, "The Ethics of Touch," that took me aback, not because it was inappropriate but because I'd never been asked it before, and I gave the wrong answer. That has bothered me ever since I realized it was wrong, which was about 40 minutes after I could actually do anything about it. We were driving away. It was Friday and we were heading home.
That means, I thought, I've got to just live with the fact that I messed up. I gave a personal opinion in place of a fact. That's a temptation that I find hard, sometimes, to avoid. So, I know some of the folks who were at the seminar are blog readers, I'm hoping they'll get the right answer to the person who asked the question.
Here was the question:
"I've been taught that when I'm talking to someone in a wheelchair I should crouch down so that we are looking eye to eye. That way I'm not towering over someone when we're talking. Is that right?"
Now, I have to admit, as I have, that I was taken aback, but I also have to admit that I have personally strong feelings about this. This led me to answer, as a person with an opinion, yet present it as a fact.
Here's the thing. I don't like it. I really don't like it when people crouch down or kneel down to talk to me. I'm not a queen with the power to bestow knighthood, so stand the hell up. I feel that when someone crouches down that:
1) they are doing me a big ass ol' favour.
2) that I'm to be grateful for the favour
3) the crouch or the kneeling centres me out even more
4) it's patronizing
5) it makes it look like talking with me, a disabled person, is a whole lot of work
The first time someone knelt down to talk to me. Eye to eye, I was startled. I suggested he stand up but he insisted. We talked for about five minutes, and you can't make this stuff up, when he went to stand his knees locked and he couldn't get up. I had to turn my wheelchair so it was sideways in front of him and give him my arm, and the armrest of my chair, for him to get back up. I found it hard not to laugh, I didn't because he was really trying.
And that's what bothers me - I don't want people to be constantly trying, putting effort into what should be effortless.
So when you talk with me. Stand the hell up!
Here's the thing.
That's decidedly not everyone.
I should have said that I don't like it, but that the best thing to do is ask the person what would make them the most comfortable. After all I'm tall and I'm in a tall chair.
Why that simple answer didn't flow from my mouth, I don't know.
But if you are reading this, dear question asker ... it was a great question to which I gave the wrong answer.
Here's the right answer: Ask the person you are talking with what they would prefer.
How hard was that?
Too hard for me anyways.