As someone who has been visibly disabled since birth, I’ve encountered an unthinkable amount of ableism. Not only that, the sheer amount of ridiculously intrusive questions I’ve been asked over the years? It’s wild. I’ve heard some of the oddest and most awkward questions and comments.
Here are 25 I’ve heard over the years:
1. “Were you born like that?”
2. “Why are you in a wheelchair, but you can move your legs?”
I never understood this. It’s like asking someone “How are you alive, but you can breathe?” Not every wheelchair user experiences or deals with paralysis. Nor do all of us lack the ability to move our legs or limbs.
3. “How do you use the bathroom?”
When I was younger, I used to deflect this with, “How do you use the bathroom?” I mean, I go just like everyone else.
4. “How do you have sex?”
Talk about intrusive.
5. “So like, are you legally a m*dget?”
There’s law? I’ve never understood this question — yet I’ve been asked it countless times. Not to mention how dehumanizing it is. Using this word to describe someone who’s short is ableist and disgusting. You’re literally calling them a small thing.
6. “You’re not short, you’re fun-sized!”
This is very tokenizing and slightly fetishizing too. Some folks have used this in a very sexual/fetish-y way toward me and other short-statured people with disabilities.
7. “What do you have?”
8. “Oh, you can’t walk because your legs are too small to hold up your weight, right?”
One of my biggest peeves is when folks assume why I can’t walk, or why I’m in a wheelchair, or just anything about my medical history. It’s extremely invasive and these folks’ guesses are usually wrong. No one should ever assume something about someone’s medical history or conditions.
9. “How do you shower?”
10. “Have you always been crippled?”
11. “Is your mom like that, too?”
12. “Were you born in a wheelchair?”
Yes, I came right out of my mom, wheelchair and all; I just rolled right out!
13. “Where you hit by a bus?”
When I was in 7th grade, a girl thought that I was in a wheelchair because I was somehow run over by a bus.
14. “Would you like to be in our cosplay video? We’re looking for someone like you to be the butt of our jokes.”
Sometimes, I don’t know if I’m more shocked by the content of what people ask me or the nerve they have to think it’s okay. There’s so much ableism in the cosplay/nerd scene, it’s absurd. To think that someone thought it was okay to come up and ask me this is just bizarre.
15. “You have such a good attitude for your situation.”
Is this supposed to be a compliment? Am I supposed to be sad and miserable all the time because I have a disability? Are people with disabilities not supposed to be happy — ever?
16. “People like you are so cute!”
Saying “people like you” is so othering. These kinds of “compliments” are actually ableist as hell.
17. “Is it hard being a m*dget?”
18. Once I was scolded by a teacher for not standing up to say the pledge of allegiance.
Honestly, I wish I was joking. The teacher yelled at me in front of my whole homeroom class, going on and on about how it was a shame that I didn’t stand up for my country and recite the pledge. She didn’t stop until someone finally yelled back at her, “He’s in a wheelchair!”
19. “Can you have babies?”
20. “Do you sleep in your wheelchair?”
Do folks think my wheelchair is glued to my body?
21. Several times I’ve gone out dancing, only to have people buy me drinks because I was in a wheelchair but I was “still out partying anyway.“
I still don’t understand if this is meant as a compliment. Am I not supposed to leave my house? Or have a life? Heaven forbid I want to go listen to music and dance with my friends. Do able-bodied people just think all people with disabilities are supposed to be quarantined, not allowed out of their homes or let into social spaces? Or that we just mope about all day?
22. “Do you have sex in your wheelchair?”
23. “Do you have feeling in your [insert private part here]?”
Unless you’re my doctor or you’re sleeping with me, it’s not your business.
24. “When are you gonna walk?”
Why does it matter?
25. One time, my mom and I were at a movie theater when some man came up to us and asked my mother if she’d like to be a birthday clown. He was a clown and was looking for a “little person” to include in his “shows.”
I swear, I’m not making this up. I wish I was. People have really come up to my mother and me and asked us this.
Trust me when I say: sometimes being disabled can be extremely awkward. Sometimes I can’t even believe the person had the gall to come up and ask me the things I’ve been asked. It’s baffling sometimes. Other times it’s exhausting. It can be difficult to cope with feeling like your body is everyone’s business.
Needless to say, asking intrusive questions is extremely ableist. Our bodies and medical histories aren’t here to appease your curiosity. We’re not here to be your party clowns, perform in your freak shows or be abused as a joke for your videos. Our bodies aren’t here for your humor or your gazes. We are people too. Real, whole people who deserve dignity and respect. If you can’t realize that, please don’t bother talking to us at all.
People with disabilities shouldn’t have to feel guilty for not wanting to divulge personal information about our bodies and our medical histories. Stop writing off your ableism or other people’s ableism as “curiosity.” Take time to understand where that curiosity comes from in the first place. Understand your able-bodied entitlement towards the bodies of people with disabilities and the rhetoric that comes with that entitlement.