Disability Etiquette: Did you really just say that?

Last weekend, my husband and I tagged along with some friends on their yearly ugly sweater pub crawl. Everyone danced around with flashy tinsel and ornaments located in places they shouldn’t be, while loud metal music pounded our ear drums (that was spot number three). Everyone was joyful and talkative. Not being much of a drinker myself, I was fully aware of the repeat sentences that started to play from characters in our group that were having a little too much fun. To my delight, one of these fun ladies latched on to me and decided to keep telling me how much she admired me. Now, this would normally be something of flattery, but she expressed her admiration for my unconditional love of my husband because he is in a wheelchair. There was no point in enlightening someone who is inebriated, especially when she is wearing an ice skating polar bear on her sweater. So, I am sharing my insight on here about what not to say and do. Yes, we have encountered all of these not to do’s.

1. Don’t make assumptions about someone’s disability.

Disability varies from person-to-person just like hair color, height, and the weather in Portland during the winter. My husband had a motorcycle accident and survived going over a 30 foot plus cliff without any brain injuries. He just happened to land on a log that severed some of his nerves. He is a super hero. He can’t walk, which is really no big deal. It sure makes his shoes last forever. He drives, goes to the gym (he can bench almost 300 pounds), and is a very active person. He is smart, funny, handsome, and one of the most positive people you will ever meet. If you are really curious about what happened, just ask.  But, ask in a courteous way. Instead of asking, “What is wrong with you?”, how about trying, “Would you mind if I ask what happened?”

Plus, if you really want your mind blown, try going to a wheelchair basketball tournament. I bet after watching one game your views will change. Though, my husband recommends not playing wheelchair basketball since it will destroy your shoulders.

2. Avoid saying things like, “it is so great that you are out” or “you are an inspiration”.

Though your intentions are good, saying either of these “compliments” kind of sound like you think the person should be at home wasting away. Granted, a lot of people with a mobile disability do stay home a lot, but not because they don’t want to have a life. Staying home might be related to a health issue, weather issues (try holding an umbrella during a down pour), lack of transportation, or the intended location might not be accessible. Being in a wheelchair doesn’t mean your life is over; it just means you have to do things a little differently. To tell someone who they are an “inspiration” because the person is living life tends to come across as a little condescending.

3. Please don’t say to a spouse, friend, or relative that it “must be hard”. Followed by, “I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable”.

Actually, it’s not always hard. Life will throw you a loop no matter your situation. Everyone goes through hard times. Our hard times are just different from yours. Honestly, your hard times might even be harder than ours. We don’t feel uncomfortable about it, but clearly you do or you wouldn’t mention it. If you do feel uncomfortable, ask yourself why.

4. Don’t say, “you must be an amazing person to be with him; he’s lucky to have you.”

Actually, I’m lucky to have him. Who else would put up with my hours of playing flute etudes and practicing Chris Isaak tunes on the guitar over and over again, listening to all my sci-fi story ideas, make me go to the gym for my health when I really just want another Reese’s peanut butter cup, and let me be a complete mess when I’ve had a bad day. I’m not a saint because I love him unconditionally. To say so makes me question who you are as a person. He is an amazing man who can make people smile with his countless stories from his crazy youth, walk the clueless of the clueless through computer hard drive re-installs, make jokes about not feeling his legs after getting hit by a car, and make up songs about my dog while I’m doing homework. He’s the love of my life.

5. If it is not a question that you would ask a stranger, then don’t ask.

It’s really inappropriate to ask a stranger if they can have sex or kids. If you are on a first date, that might be fair game, but use common sense. If the person wants you to know the information he or she will tell you without you having to ask.

6. Do not sit on someone’s lab without their permission. This really happens.

You can cause an injury. Seriously. You cannot assume anything about someone’s injury. Some people with mobility issues may have osteoporosis or have little control over core balance. If you are slamming your rear onto someone’s lap, you can break a bone or completely knock the person out of their chair. One young lady pushed her way into our dance circle at a club and tried to “fall” onto my husband’s lab. Fortunately, my ninja like reflexes pushed her out of the way just in the nick of time.

7. If your house is inaccessible, don’t be offended if we miss your party.

Once, my husband and I somehow made it up and down three flights of stairs. Though we survived unscathed, we decided that will never happen again unless we are being chased my zombies. It’s not only a safety issue for both of us, but it’s really not a smart idea in heeled sandals. Plus, saying that he can pee in the backyard or in a bottle because your bathroom is not accessible doesn’t make it okay. Would you make any of your other friends relieve themselves under the stars?

Don’t worry if you have violated the etiquette. You will not be ostracized for the rest of eternity. Just be aware. Take a chance to talk with someone with a disability. You will learn the true capabilities of a person’s strength and see life through a different perspective.

Give Up Your Seat

While on the bus, an older gentleman clung on to the standing rail along the aisle above his head. His eyes surveyed the area around him for an empty spot as he held on with all his strength. His eyes were filled with fear. Fear that one can only assume was of losing balance and crashing to his feet.

Minus the mothers with young children, there were several people his junior sitting in all of the seats. Not one gave up their seat. If we hadn’t been packed liked sardines and my seat was closer up to where he stood, I would have gladly given him my seat. 

Everyone around him stared at their cellphones and books, pretending to be unaware of anyone around them. No one saw the fear. After several blocks, he finally got a seat. A sense of relief filled his eyes.

What ever happened to the notion of helping those in need? Or just plain common courtesy? What happened to social etiquette and being kind to others? Do you give up your seat or do you pretend to be engrossed in your gadget or book?

Longing for Songs


So instead of writing something of observation, I’ve decided to include an assignment I recently received. The objective was to find a picture in the US National Archive and write a 500 word fictional story about it. Here is a link to the picture I chose (takes a few seconds to load):


Here is my story.

Longing for Songs by Jessica Mardis

(Copyright May 2013)

I cannot sleep. Nervousness and excitement dance like the meadow grass in my dreams. My little sister and I will be visiting home tomorrow. Many sunsets have passed since we have seen our mother, our Shi ma, and Ate, our father.

I close my eyes trying to picture Shi ma. It gets harder and harder to picture the little wrinkles around her eyes when she smiles. Her hair is long and dark and sways as she sweeps the floor of our home. Will she remember me? Will she recognize my eyes, my smile? My little sister, Liluye, Hawk Singing in our language, has trouble remembering. She cannot remember the sky where the hawk sang her name on her birth morning. I sing her the songs that Shi ma sang to us while happily cooking our daily supper. Singing helps her remember our Shi ma’s voice and the gentle way her hair moved in the evening breeze.

The white teachers reprimand us for using our language, so we speak it in secret. We cannot talk about our Shi ma or Ate. Ate is a strong, proud man. He did not laugh much, but when he did it sounded as if the sun was laughing. He cried when the white men took us. That is the only time tears have dripped from his eyes. We screamed for Ate and Shi ma as the white men carried us away. They promised our parents they would educate us in the white man way; that we would be better for it.

The white man way has only made us miss our home. We are forced to wear gray, stiff clothing. The clothes restrict us from dancing. They do not like it when we dance in the way of our people. The beautiful beads that we had made with Shi ma were taken and burned. Our clothing, made by many hands in our tribe, full of color like the sun waterfall, were also burned. I can no longer remember the word for sun waterfall in our language. I have learned that sun waterfall is a rainbow. I remember our word being more beautiful.

Besides clothes, they also took our identities. We are no longer allowed to use our given names. I am now called Samantha. Liluye is called Judith. I like our given names better. Mine is Bina, musical instrument. They say Ate played the flute as I was birthed into the world. As my mother cried in joy, I sprung forth singing the flute melody my Ate played.

I long for the songs of our people. Will they remember us or will they treat us as strangers who wear the white man’s clothes? Will they understand us with our language tainted by the white man’s words? I will sing them the songs our Shi ma taught us. They will remember us, Bina and Liluye, their daughters. They will remember us. At last, sleep claims me into tomorrow.

No Helicopter Landing Permitted

An alarming trend is becoming more prevalent: helicopter parents. As an college academic advisor, I am seeing more helicopter parents landing in my office. To my dismay, the prospective student sits there wide eyes as the parents ask ALL of the questions about why they should go to school here and what the program is all about. As the parents start activating their helicopter blades, I turn to the student, stare right into their doe eyes and ask why they want to go to school there. Some look at me like I am speaking another language, others look to their parents to answer.

This is very perplexing and worrisome. Many contribute this to parents wanting the best for their child’s success. But the key phrase is “their child’s success”. It’s not the parents’ success, but perhaps many do base their success on their children. Since it’s the child’s success, shouldn’t the child be the one in control of the steps to get there? Shouldn’t the child define their own success?

I have had countless conversations with students who say they would rather be studying music or art, but their parents are forcing them to be a business major. Who is really ending up successful in this situation? The child who longs for a different path, but follows the one dictated by a parent? Or the child who follows their passion, but may struggle financially? What’s your definition of success? Is if fair to apply your definition to others?

Who Wears Short Shorts?

As the weather starts to heat up everyone is shedding their winter wear. Tanks, sunglasses, flip flops are coming out of hiding. It seems that shorts are getting shorter and shorter, or maybe I am just getting older. 

Walking along the water front yesterday, I saw way too many uncovered derrieres, mostly on young girls. Seriously, the cheeks were hanging out for all to see. Is this a new trend of casual summer wear? Sure, flaunt it if you have got it, but I think there is a time and place and there should be a length of shorts requirement to meet public decency. If you want to air your derriere then go to a more appropriate place like the beach. 

Yay or nay to short shorts that don’t cover your derriere?

To Gift or to Present? That is the Question.

Christmas. The time of the year where everyone receives presents and spends money from the money tree. Some say it’s a religious holiday, others say it’s a marketing spin concocted by the greedy corporations of America. Why do we celebrate Christmas? Why do we give presents? Maybe we just can’t stand up to Christmas giving peer pressure. I mean no one wants to be associated with The Grinch.

As a child, I remember trying to sleep through the excitement of opening presents the next morning. My family was not rich, but we always seemed to have plenty of presents. Dolls with curly blonde hair, boxes of cars with racetracks, and the ugly Christmas sweater created the foundation of wrapping paper chaos that grew in the living room. Looking back, I can remember the happiness clouded by financial stress that graced the faces of my parents. In my teens, I remember my parents arguing over credit card debt and figuring out their monthly bill demands. Now I understand that parents want to give their kids presents on Christmas, but when is enough, enough? Should you get into debt for a short-lived Christmas present thrill?

With the passing years, I find myself trying to get rid of my accumulation of stuff that has overtaken my attic. Christmas presents that I would never use rest in boxes hidden in the sidewall storage, along with boxes of never-ending Christmas decorations. I finally donated my 11-year-old plastic Christmas tree that was missing one of the stand legs. Don’t worry; I also donated the phone book that helped to prop it up.

The most interesting present I ever received is a glass holographic paperweight that encases a rose with the words I Love You made out of tulle. But wait, that’s not all, the paperweight sits on a spinning light foundation that projects the tulle message in the air. To date, I have used it once, but only to see what it actually is supposed to do. Who knows, maybe it will make a cool 70’s disco dance party light.

Of course, we have the Christmas List. If it was not Santa who invented the Christmas List, it must have been a person who kept receiving interesting gifts such as the previously mentioned tulle paperweight. I just don’t understand the whole Christmas List concept. You make a list of things you want that you can’t afford for yourself.  Yet, you expect other people to buy you the things you want. Why should someone buy you a present just because you want it? Do you deserve a present just for being related and because society expects it?

I am really not a Grinch, but I prefer experiences to receiving more stuff. I always feel awkward when someone asks me what I want for Christmas. I just want some good food, good times with family and friends, and maybe a slice of pumpkin pie. I love the Christmas dinners, the day off from work, and well, even giving gifts. I know; I am not helping my case here. To my defense, I give gifts, not presents. I have always defined gifts as giving voluntarily and without expectation. I never expect a present in return. While presents, are presented for a particular occasion with some expectation of reciprocal present giving. Come on, if you buy your sister a present for her birthday, don’t deny that you are expecting a gift from her on your birthday. Santa Claus is the ultimate gift giver, though I am sure he appreciates the presents of cookies and milk.

Why do you celebrate Christmas? Are you a gift giver or a present giver?

Got Helmet?

Got Helmet?Portland is the friendliest bike city on Earth. Bike lanes weave in and around all parts of P-town. New bike stoplights are popping up here and there. Bridges close down for family peddling events. The lengths the city has gone for bike safety is pretty amazing. With all of the safety features that the city has provided, why are bicyclists being risky with their heads? I have noticed there are many bicyclists riding around without a noggin protector. I am not talking one or two, but a large percentage I see are riding helmetless.

Sure, helmet head might not be the most attractive hairstyle when you get to the office. A simple solution, bring a comb. Hair gel works wonders. I would risk helmet hair any day if it means protecting my noggin from meeting the ever so welcoming asphalt.

Is risk part of the enticement of not wearing a helmet? Does a helmet clash too much with the outfit of the day?  Is it too uncomfortable? Comfort for a major hospital bill seems like an easy choice. I really don’t understand why people put their safety at risk. Please explain this to me. Maybe I am just not that risky.  On the few occasions I ride my bike, my fashionless headpiece is always protecting my head. Really, I like bicyclists. I have quite a few bicyclists friends, most of who do wear a helmet. Perhaps our shared aversion to asphalt solidifies our friendship.

For those who do wear a helmet, why are some of you wearing headphones? It seems to defeat the purpose of safety if you cannot hear the commotion happening around you. It might not be as peaceful of a ride, but I would surely want to be aware of a car horn blaring behind me.

What’s your reason for going helmetless? Is riding helmetless a way of adding painful excitement to your life?  Could you secretly like vacations to the hospital?