I was recently on a Zoom call with other people who were disabled. One of the moderators who wasn’t disabled made a comment that drove me nuts. She said she was awestruck by being on a call with so many celebrities.
Being disabled doesn't make me a celebrity
Now none of us on the call are celebrities. We are presenters for a speaker series about living with a disability, such as my SMA. I find that I run into these types of patronizing comments a lot. It really gets under my skin.
Why overstate my role?
I do some volunteering and I have been on some board of directors for non-profit organizations. Another comment I’ve heard there was when employees see me they refer to me as their boss.
I hope they are not intentionally being patronizing but I walk away from that encounter feeling patronized. I wonder if they say that phrase to non-disabled board members? Are they subconsciously trying to make me feel important because I am disabled?
I tend to be a happy and engaging person. I try to make it a point to make eye contact with people and give them a smile or a head nod. There are times when I go out with my girlfriend Suzanne, and she points out patronizing comments to me. What drives Suzanne nuts is when people call me "buddy."
Don't call me buddy?
I never thought much about the use of buddy. It’s something I am guilty of doing a lot. My friends and I are always using nicknames or our last names when talking to each other. The friends I made from childhood and college never called me Mike. I’m always referred to as Noon. Even my friend’s parents call me Noon.
When someone calls me buddy, it never registers as a patronizing comment. I think that’s because I have used the word all my life. Buddy rolls off the tongue rather easily. Since Suzanne has been pointing it out to me I have tried to curtail my use of buddy.
Do I patronize others?
I exercise at a YMCA and they have an abilities program. This program was designed for people with autism, downs syndrome, and other cognitive disabilities. As I mentioned earlier I always make it a point to look people in the eye and acknowledge them.
Since Suzanne brought to my attention that buddy can be patronizing, I have tried to make a concerted effort to refrain from using it, especially to people with autism and downs syndrome. I can see how it could be patronizing and offensive to them, not that I ever meant it to be.
Maybe no harm was meant
Now I try to give those who have patronized me the benefit of the doubt. I chalk it up to them maybe being a little socially awkward around someone with a disability.
I really don’t think they were trying to be condescending. I know that’s never been my intention when calling someone buddy. I do feel that it has helped me become more aware and hopefully, I don’t make someone else feel patronized.
How about you? What are some things said or done to you that have made you feel patronized? How have you handled that?
Which emotional aspect of SMA do you find most difficult?