Disabled In Public

newspaperspyThose of you who read my column on a regular basis know that I am considered disabled. Now, some days you would never be able to tell when watching me walk, but most days you can spot it a mile away. I walk with a unique gait that instantly telegraphs everyone in the area that I’m not physically the same as they are. It becomes even more noticeable when I have to use my cane. Most of the people I meet in my travels respond to me in ways that will make you cringe. For some odd reason they all think that handicapped people don’t notice.

The most common response to my physical disability is what I like to call “obvious ignorance.” Most people who see you limping feel an overwhelming desire to gape, mouth hanging open, in order to discover just what is wrong with you. Fortunately, their moral compass usually points them in the right direction and they soon realize that staring at someone who is different is just plain rude. Unfortunately, the people are usually so afraid of being caught staring that they go overboard trying to look disinterested. This feigned ignorance can take many extreme forms. I have been standing next to complete strangers who simply refuse to look in my direction, as if their eyes might pop out of their heads right there in the store and spontaneously combust. Sometimes I like to have fun with these people and ask them to pass me something from the store shelf, or ask them what time it is. You’re probably trying to figure out how you can pass someone an object without looking at them, and as I’m sure you realized, it’s not easy. Half the time, the object drops to the floor and the situation becomes even more awkward. One woman simply couldn’t stand it any more and literally took off running a few seconds after the box of pasta I asked her for fell to the floor. She made some vague attempt to convince me her son was calling her name, but I doubt she even had children. Why does physical disability make others so uncomfortable?