Monday, July 20, 2009

Reactions to disability

Richard Pollins' piece in the Guardian talks about three kinds of reactions to his disability: the Troubled, the Inquisitors and the "well done for coming out, mate".

The British are, as we know, fairly reserved, polite, and often awkward. Which means most of the time when I meet new people, they don't ask why I'm on crutches. All that changes, however, if I'm out at night and the drinks are flowing. The interest levels seem to rise in parallel with the alcohol levels, and it's extraordinary how often I am clocked over the course of an evening by a sincere nod and the phrase: "Well done for coming out, mate."

The Inquisitors are interested, curious – and demand answers. Normally a short, occasionally awkward conversation ensues while I explain my lack of legs. Commonly, an Inquisitor's mission during this conversation is to find a line of questioning that is staggeringly original. I'm 30 now, and I can count on one hand the number of times they have succeeded.

Inquisitors sometimes ask to
"have a feel" as if to see if he is telling the truth or "have a go" at his crutches. It is the Troubled who he finds most - troubling, who tell him tales of family tragedies or times they have fallen and had an accident while he is out trying to have a good time.

I don't wish to sound heartless, but when you're on a night out with your friends, enjoying a few drinks and having a good time, finding yourself embroiled in a stranger's troubles can be a little . . . deflating. I understand that seeing someone on crutches can remind you of your time on them (and I do even enjoy having my ego massaged by a temporary crutch user about my abilities on sticks), but it doesn't follow that I'm the best person to talk to about more severe, general disasters.

Yet, in the end, Pollins' article keeps a sense of humor about all these interactions, noting the various ways he has handled his disability in the past. It's a great read.

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