The Gimp Parade has a great post called "The Sparrow" where Blue wrote a very interesting post about what it's like to travel about in public with a visible disability. She compares it to a book she's reading. In it, the character realizes that, as a priest, when people saw him, they would automatically make a lot of assumptions about who he was on the inside. She also linked to a great post by Professor Steven Kuusisto over at Planet of the Blind .
In "Table Talk", Kuusisto explains how there are time when one just wants a moment to themselves but having a visible disability sometimes makes that impossible.
And all you wanted was coffee. Maybe a cholesterol busting eggs and bacon dish. Yes and you wanted silence. You wanted a moment's worth of freedom from American sincerity. You had wanted to sit, unclouded, contemplating your earthly duties with nothing more than a bite of scrambled eggs and a swig of coffee.
I can really sympathize with what he's going through. Sometimes people just don't feel like giving their whole life story to strangers. Not every person with a disability feels comfortable talking about it, even with those they know and when you're having one of those days when you in a lot of pain it can be especially difficult to be a good sport about such questions.
This is an issue that often comes up in PWD (people with disabilities) communities. I don't think anyone with a visible disability can say they've never experienced a situation where they wound up answering all sorts of personal questions asked by strangers who just happen to be in the same vicinity as them. Several PWD that responded to Kuusisto's post discussed their experiences and all the ways they fantasize about responding to those who ask what they see as inappropriate questions. The two button ideas are absolutely hilarious!
While reading Kuusisto's post, I thought back to an article I read last year in The New York Times called "The Rudeness of Strangers" that provided readers with a few tips for dealing with social situations where a woman is dining alone in a restaurant. It pointed out the fact that one shouldn't assume that the diner would rather have company than to eat alone. I think that perhaps the same advice should be taken when it comes to dealing with PWD.
I've been thinking about what Kuusisto wrote and I keep wondering to myself why I've never minded answering the questions strangers ask me about my disabilities. I'm wondering if it has anything to do with cultural differences. On a hunch, I looked at the profiles of Kuusisto, Bibliochef and Raymond Pert (the latter two are the commenters with the button ideas). As I suspected, all three of them reside up north.
During the periods of time that I've lived outside of the south, I came to see that people in those areas are just a lot less friendly--at least in the way that southerners would probably describe friendliness. It's not that they are necessarily rude but they just don't seem to seek out social interactions as much as we do down here. For instance, if someone saw me eating alone at the local coffeeshop one morning and they started asking me questions about my disability, I wouldn't consider it rude at all. It's just something we do down here. We will hold a conversation about almost anything with a stranger. On the other hand, striking up a conversation with the barista or customer at a northern coffeeshop, just isn't going get the same reaction.
I think it would be a bit interesting to find out if being questioned (about your disabilities) by strangers bothers other southern PWD as much as it does those who are from the north. I wonder if others feel like I do when it comes to these sort of questions from others who have disabilities. When I encounter other disabled people and they ask me questions, it feels less like talking to a stranger. Even if they ask me questions that go beyond what I'd probably be comfortable telling a stranger, it doesn't really seem rude to me because I don't have to feel any pressure to give them the super-cheerful answers that I sometimes feel obligated to give non-disabled people. Does that make sense? I dunno.