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Disability Etiquette, part 6 – Ten things NOT to say to disabled people

Woman saying "but you don't look like one of those mentally ill" to a man who says "that's because I'm disguised as a human being today"

Thanks to “Crippen” – www.crippencartoons.co.uk.

Another in our series to help people feel more confident around disabled people. Slightly tongue-in-cheek this time, but still sadly very much based on real life experience, here are some things it would be better not to say to disabled people or people with long-term chronic conditions (unless you intentionally want to offend, of course!):

1. “You don’t look disabled to me” – what would you like me to do, hang a label round my neck saying “beware – epileptic”??

2. “I know just how you feel” – everybody has experienced pain at some time, but pulling a muscle playing tennis or having had toothache once does not mean you have the first clue what it feels like for every living second of your life to be dominated by relentless pain which will never go away. And feeling  bit tired because you’ve done some overtime recently does not mean you have any idea how it feels to have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

3. “Count your blessings – there are plenty worse off than you” - I do count my blessings and I’m well aware there are many worse off than me. That doesn’t make me feel any better at all, and try living a week of my life and then count your blessings!

4. “My cousin’s best friend’s next-door-neighbour’s mother-in-law had exactly what you’ve got and she cut out eating products beginning with g and was better within a week! You should try it!” – firstly it’s unlikely she had exactly what I have, and I’m sticking to conventional medicine thank you. And no, that doesn’t mean either that I can’t be that bad then or that I must be making it all up.

5. “It’s all in your head, you know – you need to keep a positive mental attitude” – being positive can be helpful at times, but this isn’t all in my head, and no human being can be Cheerful Charlie all the time. Accept that sometimes living with a disability or a chronic condition can be a bit miserable.

6. “Poor you – it must be horrible to be so disabled – I really feel sorry for you” – most disabled people hate sympathy, but crave empathy. Understanding that things most people take for granted can be difficult for us is very different from seeing us as passive victims.

7. “Oh, you’re so brave/inspirational/marvellous” – we didn’t choose for this to happen to us, we’re just ordinary people doing the best we can in difficult circumstances.

8. “It must be terrible to be so disabled – I’d rather be dead than live like you have to.” (yes, I’ve actually had that said to me!) – my life may have some challenges, but it is just as worthwhile as anyone else’s and actually a lot of it is very good, thank you very much!

9. “It must be lovely to sit/lie down all the time.” – I’m sure it would be, given the choice. Try not having the choice and never being able to walk on a beach with the sand through your toes, run in the park with your children, go for a walk in the countryside.

10. “It must be lovely being at home all day living on benefits while the rest of us have to work” – remember that most disabled people work and aren’t on benefits. And that if you are so disabled you are unable to work at all you may need a succession of strangers dressing you, feeding you, taking you to the toilet, changing your tampon for you – would you seriously like to change places??

OK, a little light-hearted but with a serious meaning. The next blog in this series will look at 10 ways to be helpful for disabled people.

Can you think of any thing not to say to a disabled person? There must be plenty I haven’t thought of!

 

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