Disability, Perspective

“Does he need a menu?”

It seems like an honest question, posed by a waitress when we were somewhere in the Southern U.S. about 10 years ago.

We walked into the restaurant and waited to be seated. The waitress came over, greeted Joy (she was standing in front of me) and then asked:

“Does HE need a menu?”

Apparently, I’m HE…!?!?

I’m sure the young lady wasn’t intending to be offensive and to be honest, I didn’t know if I should be offended…or laugh…or roll my eyes. I just wanted to eat!

Joy was more forceful in saying “Uh…YES!” with a tone that sort of said – “lady – are you an idiot? What’s wrong with you? Why would ask that?” – I could hear all that in her “YES.”

We’ve been married for a while so I know what she’s thinking. 🙂

Once we got to our table, we discussed what had just happened. I was fine. Joy was more bothered by it than I was.

I wish I could say this is an isolated incident, but strange things like this have happened to me on other occasions, and I’m sure they happen to others.

Here’s a video from a YouTube account that I follow. Shane & Hannah are dating, but because of their differences in physical ability and appearance, they experience incidents like this often. They’ve decided to document their relationship and bring awareness to the issue.

Turn your sound on. This is good.

I know when some people see Joy and I together, they’re thinking:

Is she his Nurse? Support Worker? Sister?

Occasionally when we’re out and the ground is uneven, or there’s a big step or curb to go up, I will hold Joy’s arm to provide some stability. My balance isn’t great. I can see how one might confuse this kind of help to mean that she is employed in some way, to support me…

This brings me to an important side-point.

I hate buffets.

#1. They generally compensate for low-quality food, by just providing lots of it.

#2. It’s gross because 100 people just touched that spoon.

#3. They’re not great for people with mobility issues – and the whole time I’m thinking that if I’m paying good money for a meal at a restaurant, the least that they can do is bring the food to me…

Back to the main point.

This got me wondering – maybe people who don’t have disabilities or have not had experience being around people with disabilities could use a “Cheat Sheet” for how to talk to or interact with people who do have disabilities.

So…I wrote one. See below:

10 Tips & Tricks for Interacting with People with Disabilities

#1. Talk to people with disabilities like you talk to everyone else.

#2. Look at people with disabilities like you look at everyone else. Make eye contact.

#3. Introduce yourself, just like you do when you meet anyone else.

#4. Unless they’re children, don’t talk to people with disabilities as if they are a toddler.

#5. Avoid raising your voice. Unless you know that they’re hard of hearing. Don’t assume that they need you to speak up.

#6. Some accommodations that you will need to make for a person with a disability will be obvious (ie. wheelchair ramp for a person in a wheelchair) but others are not. Most people with disabilities have become accustomed to asking for help when needed. For example, if I’m handed a hot cup of coffee and expected to carry it to my seat, this is not going to end well. I will ask someone to carry it for me. Be attentive.

#7. Avoid talking slower. If they need you to talk slower, they will likely ask you to repeat yourself.

#8. Treat people with dignity & respect. Even if things don’t look quite normal on the outside, everyone has feelings and it’s quite possible that on the inside people are processing more than you might think.

#9. Be attentive to the needs of the person with a disability. There is a fine balance between providing assistance and being insulting. I wish I could give you all the things you need to know, but there are too many variables. You’re just going to have to pay attention!

#10. Don’t ignore the person with a disability because you don’t know what to do or say.

Additional Resources

Huffington Post – How to Talk to a Person with a Disability

Here’s a video that went out around World Down Syndrome Day. I LOVE this video!

2 thoughts on ““Does he need a menu?”

  1. Awareness is good. Like you said, sometimes people don’t know what to do or say, but they could at least give the benefit of the doubt, especially with respect to cognition. You certainly can’t know by looking at someone what he or she is thinking. Just give the guy a menu and if he can’t use it then so be it.

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