Today I went to a local high-street to collect an order I had placed. Once I came out of the shop I stopped to put my bags on the back of my chair. Whilst I was doing this a man probably in his fifties walked up to me and asked ‘why are you in a wheelchair’.
I am 100% aware that I don’t owe anyone a single thing regarding my health and my disability however, the easiest way around this situation is to just reply with ‘I have a disability’. For me, that was the end of the conversation and I carried on organising my things.
This was clearly not enough for him. He asked me what my disability was. I responded with ‘I have a disability but I don’t wish to discuss it’. He asked me again I told him ‘I wasn’t comfortable discussing my health with someone I didn’t know’. He asked again and I let him know that he was ‘being rather rude and it’s not ok to ask a stranger about their health.’ He told me it was ok because he has a bad leg and pointed out his walking stick so he asked again I told him I was not ‘willing to discuss my disability with you’. He responded saying ‘I don’t want to know about it, I just want to know what it is’.
Each time I responded I remained polite but my voice became slightly deeper and more serious. Eventually I raised my voice slightly which caught the attention of others around us as I told him ‘I don’t have to disclose my disability to you. I don’t want to and it’s a very personal question to ask’ at this point he walked even closer to me and said ‘oh is it mental?’. Excuse me?
You may be wondering why I hadn’t walked away but I was still faffing with my bags and couldn’t easily move away from him. It also occurred to me at this point that he had been too close our entire conversation but now he had reached an uncomfortable closeness that nobody would like, pandemic or not! At this point I raised my voice a little more and said ‘I do not need to disclose my disability to you a person I don’t know. I am not willing to have this discussion and I am asking you to also keep your distance’.
As you can imagine he wasn’t particularly ok with this and got rather annoyed with me and muttered about how rude I was and how shocked he was by me but he did walk away.
I quickly fixed my bags and headed into another shop. I ended up calling James for moral support. Even though I knew I had done the right thing and I owed this man absolutely nothing there was a part of me that began to wonder if I had been too rude or if I should have shared (which I 100% shouldn’t do!). I also realised I was shaking a little from the encounter so talking it out quickly helped me to settle. I called my best friend on my walk home and honestly I felt pretty uncomfortable being out in public after that encounter. It won’t stop me from going out at all but it did leave me with a level of discomfort around people that isn’t normal.
So this is a reminder to EVERYONE that it is extremely rude to ask a stranger about their disability and their health. I could guarantee you wouldn’t like it if we did the same to you. It is ableist, inappropriate and completely unacceptable to push a disabled person or their carer for an answer. You have no right to the details of our health. Unless you are my doctor or my carer I owe you absolutely nothing.
This is also a reminder for everyone with a disability or chronic illness, you don’t owe anyone a damn thing. In this case you 100% don’t owe a stranger. You also don’t owe your friends or family. Your health details are yours. As long as you are being honest with those that care for you i.e. a doctor where it is necessary information you need to share you don’t owe anyone!
Some may think it’s odd me being so reserved in person yet I speak so openly and publicly about my health online and the answer to that is…
I choose what, where and when I want to share intimate details about my life with you. Yes, it’s on the internet for everyone to see but I have a good idea of who will see it. Also I make time in my day to talk about these things I don’t want to be hassled by every curious middle aged man or Susan whilst I’m shopping.
I hope someone is able to take something away from my experience today and I am so sorry that so many of us deal with this type of situation on a regular basis.
This has however sparked some content ideas that I have been thinking about for a while now so let me know if you want more on this topic. So far I’m thinking of something along the lines of ‘Comebacks when someone asks what’s wrong with me’ or ‘The difference between asking to educate yourself or demanding because you’re entitled’.
I hope you’re all doing as well as possible. Don’t forget to subscribe so you are notified via email whenever I publish and new post.