Curiosity is Not the Problem
Asking People About Their Disabilities
Have you ever wondered:
– How a wheelchair user drives a car?
– What it’s like to experience a panic attack?
– How a diabetic knows how to regulate their blood sugar?
It’s natural to have questions. Having a disability means that you adapt to the world and this makes your experiences different and interesting! Any one of these questions are not inherently problematic, and many people with disabilities will gladly tell you about their lived experience. However, what can be problematic is the WAY we ask these questions.
Advice for Asking Better Questions
1 – Consider the Intention of your Questions
If you’re asking a question with the intention of confirming your biases or to validate your judgement of a person, your question is not going to be received well. On the other side of the coin, while we may want to help, they might not need your help–don’t ask questions with the intention of “rescuing” them.
2 – Set Your Tone Carefully
Asking someone “what’s wrong with you?” is not a great tone to set. Be polite.
3 – Consider Your Timing
Would you walk up to a stranger and immediately ask them personal questions? Or would you ask a co-worker personal questions in a public space or in front of others? Carefully consider when you ask someone these kinds of questions and in what environment.
4 – Ask Permission
Disability can be a guarded topic that we may not want to talk about, or a person with a disability may get asked about their condition so often they’re sick of talking about it! It’s important to realize that someone may not want to talk about their disability with you–so give them space to opt out. To start a conversation, I recommend starting with “Do you mind if I ask you about XXXX?”