I actually appreciate it when people instinctively treat me as they do anyone else, because it means that they are noticing me as a person, rather than simply seeing a disability.
People are frequently unsure as to how they should behave when they first meet me. Typically, when meeting someone for the first time, you shake their hand. I have no hand function, but sometimes people instinctively put out their hand for me to shake, and then flounder, not sure what they should do. I always tell people that they can just pat my hand rather than shake hands.
Everyone occasionally commits social faux pas. I have found that these little blunders are easily committed when somebody does not fall into the norm. People do not always know what to expect or how to react when they encounter someone in a wheelchair, or in another atypical situation. I know some people are easily offended by these unintentional slights, but I find them quite charming.
Not that long ago, I was giving one of my doctors a hard time for forgetting to uncheck the pre-discharge requirement to “walk around the unit” because I thought it was funny. I felt horrible when I realized he felt bad for not only this, but for also putting out his hand for me to shake when we first met. The slip was something I had not even noticed, but it clearly upset him. I actually appreciate it when people instinctively treat me as they do anyone else, because it means that they are noticing me as a person, rather than simply seeing a disability.
Until a woman apologized for offering her hand after meeting me, I never quite realized how these interactions affected other people. I simply see the gesture of a handshake as someone extending a standard social courtesy, but, when I can not return the handshake, they end up worrying that they have been insensitive. I hope that others in my situation are not offended by these things, but rather identify that the gesture was well-intended.
Society has established social norms for many of the typical interactions one may have. My situation, however, is not typical and there is not necessarily an established etiquette for how one ought to interact. As such, I strive to be gracious and not take offense when people are unsure of how to behave. What many people may consider as having committed a social faux pas, oftentimes helps reaffirm my humanity because it usually occurs as a result of someone responding to me as a person without considering my disability. To me, this indicates that others are not limiting their perception of me.
The views expressed by Loa are not necessarily the view of the Ventec Life Systems, its members or the clinical board. These blog posts are the personal experiences of Loa. The blog posts are not intended to provide clinical advice or training related to VOCSN. Always consult a physician or trained clinician prior to using VOCSN. Please refer to the VOCSN Clinical and Technical Manual for detailed instructions, including indications and contraindications for use. VOCSN is available by prescription only.