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.