“What’s wrong with you?” I have a feeling that we all hear that far too often. And if you’re anything like me, that phrase is one that not only gets on my nerves but also feels rather degrading. There isn’t anything WRONG with me, I just happen to have different mobility needs and limitations than the people who tend to ask this question. I understand that when you see someone different than you, it does raise questions in one’s mind, and people, by nature, are quite curious, but there are so many better ways to approach someone than to ask what is wrong with them. Just like you probably wouldn’t want a stranger, or anyone really, to come up to you and ask what’s wrong with you, we don’t enjoy it either. No one wants to have someone imply that something is wrong with them for the way that they look, are perceived, or for any other reason. Disabilities are a part of life. They aren’t something that makes a person less than another or mean that something is wrong, it’s just different.
A disability is part of someone. It can be something acquired, or something someone is born with, or a combination of both. Many of us have different levels of comfort and acceptance as it pertains to our disabilities, which, at least in my experience, has much to do with how long one has had to adapt to one’s disability. Being asked “what’s wrong with you” can truly mess with someone’s head as it relates to their acceptance of their own disability. It can be incredibly hard to accept limitations and disabilities, especially if they are something that is new in your life, and having people refer to them as something that is inherently wrong with you can be incredibly hurtful. We are different, not wrong. It can be hard to feel like you stand out in your disability. Due to my particular disability, I not only use a chair, but also have feeding tubes, central line, and have to wear a mask when outside of my house to help prevent anaphylactic reactions. I know I stand out, and I’d give anything not to. The stares, surreptitious or pointed are bad enough, but the people who come up and ask “what’s wrong with you” make it the hardest. I don’t mind questions, I know I look different. But if you see someone who looks different and you feel like you must ask questions (which honestly, think about how you would feel if a stranger decided to ask you personal questions in public while you are minding your own business), please find a way that isn’t insulting or negative such as “what’s wrong with you”. I’ve been asked where I found my mask, which opened up a conversation as to why I wear one, which was perfectly comfortable and not rude, and let me direct how much information I wanted to share, which is key. Our personal information is our own, and not something that we are required to share with someone just because they want to ask. So next time you’re tempted to ask “what’s wrong with you”, take a moment to think about how you’d feel being asked the same question, and go from there, and remember that no one owes you an answer just because you might be curious!