I was congratulated and acknowledged and outright praised yesterday. Guess what for? Holding open a door so that Joe could get in with the grocery trolley. It’s a simple thing to do, I pull the door open, move to the side while holding it open, then when Joe passes through, I back through the door holding the door until it’s safe to let go. I’ve done it a thousand times.

And I got congratulated and acknowledged and I was given outright praise.

Here’s the thing.

It was genuine.

The speaker mean what was said.

The voice was tinged with awe.

I know this is a really common experience for wheelchair users or, indeed, anyone with a mobility devise, or actually anyone with any kind of visible disability or difference.

“Wow, look at you being all normal and everything!”


Typically this just annoys me, and I make a comment, usually trying to be funny about how majestic my abilities are. Go me.

But this time, I found that I’d moved passed simple annoyance to a deeper kind of thought about why I was annoyed. Why would that bother me? Praise is praise, right, it’s positive, right? But, what if the compliment comes from a belief that little accomplishments of daily living are all we are capable of and therefore we are performing at the peak of our abilities when we do something like, say, get on an elevator competently.

No wonder they are so frightened of disability.

If their understanding of disability is not only a reduction in status but a reduction in expectation, how frightening would that be?

They are congratulating me for doing actually more than they thought I’d be able to do because I held a door open.

What do they think disability is?

Who do they think we are?

How must we live our lives?

“Holy shit, that guy with Down Syndrome is using a cell phone, AWESOME!”

Where did I get that quote from? Did I make it up? No, I don’t have that kind of imagination, I heard it said while out the other day. It annoyed me, but I didn’t think about why.

But now I have.

We live lives in which they can ‘gold star’ us just for shopping or going to the movies or, yes, using a cell phone or holding a door open.


Sometimes I think the only people who get those of us in the disability community are others in the disability community (I’m speaking broadly about this community, families, friends, husbands, wives, parents … all of us).

Why are we keeping ‘us’ secret?

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