There are no ugly questions except those clothed in condescension.
The author, Dana S. Dunn, is currently Professor of Psychology and Director of the Learning in Common (LinC) Curriculum at Moravian College, Pennsylvania. One of his former students has muscular dystrophy, and has experienced the well-meaning but clueless interactions with other people that leave many of us with disabilities feeling like we’re being objectified, to somehow edify other people by performing the daily, mundane tasks that everyone does.
My former student isn’t the only disabled person who gets comments like these. Lots of people with disabilities get them all the time. Is there a problem? I think so. On the one hand, these casual observers are well-intentioned and just trying to be nice. On the other hand, however, they are treating disability as something extraordinary, like something that must be overcome each and every day (“You must be a hero in order to deal with that all the time!”). Of course, this sort of treatment is also condescending.
What many members of the general public fail to realize is that people’s disabilities are a fact of their lives, personal qualities, and very much a part of who they are. In other words, disability is familiar and part of their identities—its presence doesn’t make them particularly heroic, just as it doesn’t mean that their lives are a constant struggle, either. Disabled persons tend to focus on their disabilities only when they encounter social or environmental barriers, like overly curious onlookers or inaccessible buildings—both of which impede their progress.
What I like best about doing my day-to-day activities is that few people notice me, and even better, in the local Costa coffee shop, the baristas don’t treat me any differently from other customers, except to always carry my tray for me to a table (because mobility scooters and a tray holding a hot beverage is a recipe for disaster!). At home, we use travel mugs.
In fact, as I type this, I am considering a second cup of coffee – with a lid on it.