By: Joshua M. Kriebel

I read an article the other day, “10 things to never say to someone in a wheelchair” By Tiffiny Carlson.  First let me say I am on the same team as the writer.  I too want people to realize disabled individuals are people too and are no different than everyone else.  With that being said, I see where they are coming from and agree with a few points but I felt differently on some.  I want to talk about the part I felt was most important first.

The part I disagreed with the most was with the writer’s stance on questions like, “What happened to you.” and “Can I ask you a personal question.”   Their stance was basically, don't ask unless you are close and it’s none of your business.  I get it you feel like you shouldn't have to answer these questions but I look at it this way.  When people don't know something we just assume and judge.  If you take the “none of your business” approach what happens if their assumptions are wrong.  They will go about their lives with an inaccurate perception.  If we really want to be understood and want people to realize we are no different than we need to embrace peoples questions. 

The second thing is the humor part of things.  A common thing said is “Slow down you might get a ticket.”  Does it get old?  Yes.  Is it funny?  You be the judge but really it's just innocent humor.  There are many other innocent jokes but you can't let them make you feel insignificant or get offended by it.  Humor is a coping mechanism that we all use.  Life can be cold and cruel and if we didn't have humor the world would be too hard to handle.  I found this quote from actress Alex Bornstein, known for the voice of Lois on Family Guy, to be intriguing. “If I enter the room and make fun of myself first, then no one will.”  Granted people might still make fun of you and even do it in an ignorant way.  However having the ability to laugh at yourself will make your life more enjoyable and make it harder for people to bring you down.

My next point is about curious questions like “How fast does that thing go?”, “Do you know so and so in a wheelchair too?”, and “Is your significant other also in a wheelchair?”  I don't see a problem with asking any of these questions.  Its small talk and I have heard some things a million times but I have also had probably 2 million conversations about the weather.  Sometimes curious questions are simply that, just curious questions. 

There are some points I did agree on though.  Like the following comments; “You’re good looking for being in a wheelchair.”  It’s better to leave the “for being in a wheelchair” part out.  It kind of diminishes the compliment.  “Good for you.” I can't say this is bad because being in a chair does make life a little harder.  Simple tasks can seem daunting for a disabled person, so I can see why people would be astonished when you do something simple and say “good for you.”  It’s crazy to think someone would say this next comment.  “I’d rather die than be disabled.”  I mean who in their right mind would say this to someone.  I'm sure though most people wouldn't so I will leave it at that.

If we, disabled or not, really want to change the way we are viewed, we need to open up.  Even if it’s difficult to talk about or borderline awkward.  I have reached the point I am comfortable with who I am and nothing is too difficult or awkward to talk about.  It’s easier said than done reaching that point where you become comfortable with yourself.  However once you do, you can enjoy life instead of questioning who you are and worrying about what other people think.  The ability to laugh at yourself can also help you except yourself as well.  So don't lose your sense of humor, you will always need it.  Remember people are naturally curious and will ask innocent questions.  Just embrace the opportunity to show people you are a no different and unique at the same time.  When I think about it, this last paragraph pertains to all people not just disabled people.  So embrace yourself and don't forget to laugh.



07/22/2013 10:48am

Great article Josh. It is sometimes difficult to find the right balance between inquisitive and intrusive. Kindness and humor go a long way. Your guidance is appreciated!

Joshua M. Kriebel
07/23/2013 2:50pm

Thank you Pat for the kind words!

08/02/2013 11:47pm

I like reading your viewpoint after reading the article abot "10 things to Never Say...". My issue with the "what happened to you?" is it shouldn't be the first question out of a person's mouth. Build up to it. Even if the first few minutes is fluff conversation but at least build up to it. I use to find humor in being compared to a car until it started to feel like people weren't looking at me but the thing that I sit in. I know that people mean nothing by it...even maybe be trying to break the ice but it just makes me feel invisible. Thank you for your write-up and the other viewpoint.

Joshua M. Kriebel
08/08/2013 4:54pm

I agree Katherine. It shouldn't be the first thing out of a person's mouth. It should a question built up like you said, even if it's fluff conversation at first.

tommy hicks
02/02/2014 2:34pm

good stuff josh !!! you've got a life with pen and paper if that is what you want !!!

Joshua M. Kriebel
02/07/2014 4:37pm

Thanks Tommy!


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    My name is Josh Kriebel, Founder and CEO of the
    Joshua Michael Foundation.
    Our mission is to help find a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy by funding promising and innovative research.  Having this terrible disease myself is what drives me to make a difference.  I want to use this blog to share with you my thoughts and personal experience living with DMD.  I hope my posts will be inspirational and insightful.


    July 2013
    March 2013