From the Disability Wisdom Community: Interactions that Make Us Go Hmmm

At the end of my sophomore year of college, I was sitting outside studying for my last final exam before summer break. I remember it was the final for evolutionary biology, my least-favorite class that semester, and I was really hoping for a good grade on the exam. I was absorbed in reviewing my notes on my braille notetaker, my cane stowed behind my feet on the ground, when an unfamiliar man approached me and asked for directions to the Administration building. Since I happened to know where it was, I obliged. But midway through my pointing him in the right direction, his entire demeanor changed. He must have seen my braille display on my lap.
“Whoa, you’re blind!”
“Yes, I am” I said, going back to my notes.

Instead of heading off to find the Administration building and letting me study in peace, the man then announced that “I’m your angel today.” He mumbled something nonsensical about God and then tried to give me a $20 bill, which he said I could use to buy food. I politely declined a few times before he mumbled something else about praying for me and walked away. While I don’t remember all the details, I do remember wishing I had asked him, in all seriousness, to pray for me to get an A on my final.

I’m pretty sure that most, if not all, disabled people have had at least one puzzling interaction with a stranger. As the stories below illustrate, sometimes strangers say things that are insensitive and hurtful. Other times, we are told or asked things that aren’t necessarily harmful, but are just so puzzling and weird that we’re at a loss as to how to respond. Here are some examples. [Pro tip: If you don’t want to unintentionally create an awkward situation with a disabled person, before saying something, ask yourself if your comment or question would be cool to say to a nondisabled person? If not, then try saying something else instead. “Hello, my name is…” is a good start.]

  • “I would kill myself if I had that” referring to my condition.

  • All I can say is Mardi Gras is a very… Very… Interesting time of year.

  • Recently, a guy walked beside me for over five minutes telling me how sad my life must be because I was blind. But that he said he understood what I was going through because he was losing his hearing but he had a good sense of smell so that made up for it, but my life must be so bad and sad because I don’t have that extra sense.

  • I had one lady at an airport tell me that if I put my fingers together, I’d be healed.

  • Oh and always there’s stuff like “have you tried this nonsense/snake oil/my cousin sells…”

  • I have a intersectionality story. Years ago, when I was dating my first girlfriend, This couple came up to us and started telling us the good news. My girlfriend and I were both wearing rainbow shirts and holding hands, so we looked at each other like, “oh crap, here comes some attempt to save us from damnation or something for being gay.” We spent the next hour or so hearing about if I let them pray hard enough for me, God would give me my sight back. Years later, I wish I had reminded them that, according to my beliefs, they were insulting God, because He made me this way and he doesn’t make mistakes.

  • And of course, there are those people who think that my kids are always helping me, acting as cited guides. Once, when my son was just two years old, I was holding his hand as we approached an escalator, obviously intending to help him, but, a lady came up from behind us and said, “oh, that’s so nice you have a child who can help you do things like escalators. “ she didn’t get a very friendly look from me, but, I left it alone and just continued on our way, deciding to pick him up and carry him down the escalator instead. I think it’s startled her that I did that LOL.

  • So many stories, where to even begin… I had one stranger come up to me and ask “What did your parents do to piss God off for you to be born blind? It must have been something really bad.” I also had a server once try to help me by grabbing my hand and slamming it ontop of a pizza. This was right after she told me not to touch it because it was hot. Hot indeed it was. Nothing says finger food like having your palm covered in tomato sauce and melted cheese.

  • A friend of mine was once asked if he read books with his mind.

  • Stranger at SubWay restaurant: are you blind? (From across the store)
    Me: yes????
    Stranger: have you ever considered killing yourself?
    Me: (long pause) no
    Stranger: you should.

  • I have cerebral palsy and I had this said to me. “Oh my sister had that for a few months when we were growing up. My parents just gave her lots of fish oil.”

  • When I was 12 and traveling downtown on an orientation and mobility lesson, a woman approached and said, “honey, I just wanted you to know even though you can’t see, God at least blessed you with being pretty, so you will always have someone to take care of you. Make sure you say a little prayer and thank him for that now.”

  • When I was in the fourth grade we once had a substitute teacher.
    I had never met him before this day.
    I entered the classroom and had hardly got myself situated at my desk, and he grabbed my hand without saying a word and forced me to touch his beard.
    To say I was creeped out would not do this justice.

  • My mom is in a nursing home, and I visit every day. About every other time, regardless of how professionally I dress, or how confidentl I walk in, some staff member asks me sweetly: “Are you a new resident?”

  • Last Saturday, I was doing homework, (as you do), and I had the house to myself. During one of my breaks, I was listening to music and dancing and decided to have some gumbo. I ordered from Postmates, all was good. An hour later, the lady pulls up, and I wave at her from the porch. As she gets closer, she’s all friendly and stuff. When she went to hand me the bag, it occurred to her that I couldn’t see, and she went, “Oh… oh my God. Baby…” she then trailed off, then ENTERED MY YARD to give me a FULL BODY CONTACT HUG. She apologized for her to guffaw in assuming I was normal, (sarcasm). She gave me my food, said God bless you, and left. The gumbo was good.

  • So I’m going to skip past all the regular interactions of prayer and healing, saying that they would kill themselves if they were me, etc. and jump to like you said, some of my wildest ones. One of them was an evangelical who actually grabbed me during a college tour to pull me aside because he was there with his daughter and wanted to pray for my site. I can laugh about it now but I actually almost broke out into tears then because it was my very first college tour and it was absolutely humiliating and he actually put his hands on my face until I pushed him away. The second one was another evangelical group that came up to my husband and I at Union Square, Park in NYC.was the most bizarre story, but they came up to us and they were telling us how they can sense others auras or something to that extent and they could tell us words that had meaning to us. and of course to me the first word they said was dog, as if a dog and a blind person are these two crazy things to put together, and I told them that no, the word dog has no significance to me because I actually really hate dogs. They then in puzzlement were like oh, we thought for sure that word would be special for you and I was just like nope. Then of course they got to their point which was that they noticed I am blind and if they could pray for me. I told them that that’s not necessary and I actually wasn’t really welcoming prayer at that moment and I was just trying to eat lunch with my husband on a beautiful day. Then I told them that my husband and I had been talking about the Middle East and the Syrian war as it was during the peak of the Civil War, and I told them that I’ve been watching these awful videos of children being bombed, and parents screaming over the corpses of their kids bodies, and I would actually really love if they could pray for Syria and pray for the US to stop bombing it and for the Civil War to end. they actually stopped, and said no. They literally said they would not pray for it. And that’s when I told them it was time for them to leave our table.

  • I’m not disabled but my daughter is blind. I was recently telling a student about this and how it’s interesting that the visual cortex can be re-purposed for other things like tactile and auditory processing in blind folks…it was not an emotional conversation, just a chat about science and I happened to mention my daughter because I’m a mom and moms insert their kids into conversation whenever they can. Suddenly, another student I had never met before came exploding into my office (I guess she was eavesdropping from the hall??) and said, “my heart is breaking for you that you and your daughter have to suffer with her disease!” I was totally shocked but calmly said, “no need for that, neither of our hearts are breaking but are you here for office hours?”

  • I was in a Lift to the doctor’s office last Friday. My driver asked if I was religious, so I shared that I grew up as a non-practicing Baptist and attended a Lutheran denomination house church recently, but that I wasn’t really religious. He asked if anyone had ever prayed for me before, and I explained that it made me uncomfortable to have people praying for me in public back in the south, because it draws so much attention and people stare. I suggested that if he wanted to pray for me on his own time, that would be fine. He was extremely polite about it, but he asked if we could pull over in the doctor’s parking lot and if he could pray. I wanted to say no, but I also didn’t want to make the interaction awkward. What would it hurt to let him pray, even if I didn’t like it? He was being so nice, after all. So, he pulls over, and he takes my hand over the back of the seats. He starts praying, really feeling the Jesus as he’s snapping along and feeling it. He asks me to repeat, “Father, I accept healing into my eyes.” I do it, a little reluctantly. He laughs and says, “Naw, you gotta say it like you mean it.” So, I laughed it off and tried again. Finally, we were done, and I reminded him to pull up to the doors for me. I got out and went on my way. He was extremely nice and polite about the whole interaction, but I was still very uncomfortable. I felt like I wasn’t in a position to tell him no. I couldn’t exactly bail out of the car on the side of a busy street or in a big parking lot. Even if I did, he would have jumped out after me to help. Blind people don’t get left alone. I don’t really believe in prayer as a medical miracle, and engaging in prayer is a very personal experience I’m not comfortable sharing with a stranger. Religion was never a part of my life, so it feels a little alien. As a woman in a car with a male stranger, as a blind person in an unfamiliar area, as a blind woman who is expected to be nice to people and accept their help, as a relative of sincere Christians, I felt like I had to let him pray. I felt like even a polite refusal would have made me the bad person in this situation. I think that’s why I’m so uncomfortable with people praying for me in person. I don’t feel like I have the choice to tell them no.

One thought on “From the Disability Wisdom Community: Interactions that Make Us Go Hmmm

  1. Wow thanks for sharing these stories Arielle Those comments and actions are just ridiculous and most likely these are people who would act that way with everyone.

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