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Monday, November 5, 2012

"Your Brother Pats Paraplegics on the Head"

Today, as I stood in the mailroom, waiting for the microwave to heat my coffee, I idly scanned the bulletin-board clutter, and I noticed a document entitled, "The Ten Commandments of Communicating with People with Disabilities."  Surprisingly, commandment number one was NOT, "Thou shalt not say, 'Hi, Disabled Person!'"

The one that struck me was number 5: It begins, "Treat adults as adults. Address people with disabilities by their first names only when extending that same familiarity to all others."  So far so good.  Then it continues: "Never patronize people in wheelchairs by patting them on the head or shoulder."

Now, I'm obviously no expert, but is this a major problem?  Is there an epidemic of well-meaning but ill-mannered folks going around patting the heads of people in wheelchairs?  Admittedly, the wheelchair-bound are adorable, and it's all I can do to resist the urge not only to pat their heads but also to pinch their cheeks.  Yet, resist I do.

I will, of course, do my part to spread the word about the social unacceptability of head patting.  I can't help but wonder, though, if it might be better for people who HAVE been patting the heads of wheelchair users to CONTINUE doing so.  I mean, put yourself in the place of one of the patt-EEs: "Gee, Bob used to pat me on the head every day.  Now he's stopped.  I wonder if I've done something wrong?"

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