Yup. That’s it. That’s the end of today’s post.
Just kidding. That would be kinda disappointing, wouldn’t it? At least, I hope it would.
Yet, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation seems to be unconsciously sending the message that conversations with people who have CP and other disabilities can start and end with “hi.”
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, the Foundation recently put out a video that explained there is no “secret” to starting a conversation with a person who has a disability. Just say hi!
On the surface, I agree with that. There’s no secret to talking to me, or anybody else with a disability. You don’t need an eighteen-week college course. You don’t need a foreign dictionary. All you have to do is say “hi.”
But then what? The video doesn’t tell us.
I got the idea for this post after I saw another blogger’s reaction to it. This young woman also has CP, and the title of her post was, “Don’t You Dare Just Say Hi.” She explains that, like me, she understands that the CP Foundation was sincere in its intentions and was trying to be positive. She explains that like me, she is not angry with them. But she and I both have a big problem with what Just Say Hi may be conveying. Here are a few key problems:
–“Just say hi” automatically presumes that people need to be taught how to talk to PWDs. Again, on the surface, I get that. It can be intimidating to talk to a person with a disability. I find myself in that position because I don’t encounter other persons with disabilities on a conversational level very often. (Which tells me there is a dearth of inclusive opportunities where I am, but that’s another issue). I often feel unsure about how to approach another person with a disability, especially if that person’s disability is intellectual, because I don’t want to be seen as patronizing or say the wrong thing. But not approaching them is just as bad, so I do approach, and I do have a conversation.
See, that’s the problem. On the surface, I get why people without disabilities find them intimidating. But we need to go beyond the surface. We don’t need to be “taught” how to talk to PWDs. I mean, think about it. Does “just say hi” work when applied to blacks, or Asians, or LGBT individuals? No–heck no! It’s insulting. As the other blogger put it, it makes the other person look “foreign…[like] ET.” For crying out loud.
“Just say hi” is patronizing. The other blogger, who you can find at The Girl With the Barbie Feet, put it this way. “I am not an inspiration.” “I am not here to be your good deed for the day.”
Yet, how many times are conversations with PWDs treated like this? People walk up to us and say “hi,” or “how are you,” and then once we answer, they leave. Whew–they’ve done their good deed for the day! They feel better about themselves now. They’ve made a disabled person smile–they’re so heroic!
Really? Gag me.
This is exactly what “just say hi” presumes: that people with disabilities are here exclusively for others’ benefit. As in, if we didn’t make temporarily able-bodied people feel good about themselves, if we weren’t always available to be human good deeds, what good would we be?
This really makes me sick, especially since it’s a pervasive attitude among my own people, Christians. Again, I am not picking on the church. But it’s about time somebody called Christians in particular out on this–and I’m talking to me too, because sometimes I’m tempted to say hi and walk away. STOP. Just stop.
Christians often use people with disabilities, consciously or unconsciously, to prove they are “showing Christ’s love.” People with disabilities are held up in churches or charitable organizations as the ultimate examples of inspiration and courage–but not much else. Guys, really? Hear this from a concerned sister, okay? If you’re using me to “punch your Jesus card,” don’t even bother. And if I weren’t a Christian already, your actions wouldn’t make me want to be one. Why? Because I’d think, “If that’s Jesus, He just pities me. I don’t need more of that.”
Just say hi shuts down real conversations. Often, this is because TAB people assume that people with disabilities can’t have real conversations. We can–sometimes it just takes more effort.
I read the comments on The Girl With the Barbie Feet’s blog. Out of 14 people, most accused her of missing the point of the Just Say Hi video, and of disparaging people with intellectual disabilities, because she mentioned that a lot of the people who do talk to her, talk to her the same way they do to people with intellectual disabilities–as in, like puppies or kittens or babies.
This young woman was also accused of being unrealistic. She wrote, “Ask me about my dreams and aspirations. Ask me about the change I want to make in the world. Tell me you like my hair or my shoes.”
A commenter had this to say: “Maybe I don’t have time to ask about your dreams and aspirations, or maybe I just don’t give a s#@!, like all the other a-holes out there.”
Well, at least the commenter was honest!
Look, I get it. Time is precious. Sometimes “hi” is all we have time for, and if it’s a sincere “hi,” that’s fine. If you don’t stop to ask me what I think the meaning of life is, I will not get offended.
But if the only thing you ever say to me is “hi?” If the only way you relate to me is as a disabled person whose life you must make better? I will get offended, and I will be hurt. Again: would you do this to your friends? Would you consistently do this to another minority? No.
So take a few minutes. Have a real conversation. To clean up that commenter: just, you know, give a rat’s rip what I think and feel.
Yes, please say hi. Then, let’s talk. If you’ve got a disability-related question, go ahead and ask me. Then ask me how my cat is doing. Ask me if I’ve read any good books lately (and this is an easy one.) Ask me for advice about something–you’d be amazed at how many PWDs don’t get asked advice, and how much good advice we have. Tell me about your kids, or your elderly parent, or your trip to the Grand Canyon. You can even tell me how excited you are that your favorite football team won the game. I might even ask you to explain football to me. (My dad tried once, but I probably need remedial courses).
“Hi” is great. Moving beyond it is even better. And the more often you say “hi” and have real conversations, the more comfortable you and I will both be.