Scope have set up a campaign this year called End the Awkward. The aim? To put an end to all the awkward moments that occur every single day between able-bodied and disabled people, where the person who doesn’t have a disability just doesn’t know how to act and as a result says or does some very awkward things.
With this in mind I have decided to do a series of posts in which I’ll give you an awkward situation I’ve been in and explain what could have been done differently so that all involved feel much more comfortable.
Awkward Situation #1: Do you know how old you are?
Yes, you read that right. At the age of 13 I was at guide camp when I had the following conversation:
Girl 1 (to the person pushing me in my wheelchair): What’s her name?
Person pushing me: Her name’s Jennie
We stop, girls stand around me
Girl 1: Hi Jennie, my name’s Charlene. Do you know how old you are?
Me: Uh, well, yes… (in a voice that really says ‘why wouldn’t I?!’) I’m 13. How old are you?
Charlene: I’m 11. Can you remember my name?
However bizarre this might sound, I really did have this conversation! The whole thing screams awkward, even before I was asked if I knew how old I was. Asking the disabled person’s companion questions about them, such as their name, is very common. There are a couple of ways this situation can be turned around to avoid any awkwardness, though, or at least minimise it. I often immediately answer the question myself, because sometimes I’m not sure if my companion will answer for me or not. Doing this helps the person asking the question by shifting their attention to me, and encourages them to talk to me directly because I’m showing them I’m capable of speaking for myself. Don’t forget, while they may not be acting in the most appropriate way, they probably do mean well, so you really can help them out in a positive way without being rude here.
The companion can also help stop an awkward moment from unravelling simply by suggesting that they ask the disabled person themselves. In this situation, this encouragement may have helped Charlene to feel more comfortable talking to me after receiving confirmation that she actually could! This might also help to break down the perception that I don’t know anything!
If one of these simple solutions had been used in the situation above I may well not have been asked if I knew how old I was, but instead just how old I was. If, however, a question like this is asked in other situations I think I would simply answer the question and try to continue a conversation with the other person. This gives me a chance to talk to them more on a level, so I can make it clear to them that they don’t need to talk down to me and that I have plenty to say for myself!
So that’s how I would deal with awkward moments like this. If you’ve been in a similar situation and/or have other suggestions please feel free to leave a comment below!