“How do you have sex?”..and other questions to avoid

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I read an article today that made me think about my own experiences.  The article, 9 things you should never say to a wheelchair user, had some real classics in it.  I should say that it’s not often that people will comment directly about my disability, but when they do it is usually quite memorable.

I’m often asked what is the right ‘etiquette’ around a disabled person.  For me, it boils down to four simple things:

  1. If you wouldn’t ask a friend it, then it’s probably best not to
  2. If you wouldn’t like or expect to be asked it yourself in passing then don’t
  3. Treat others as you’d wish to be treated yourself
  4. Don’t be scared around disabled people

The eagle-eyed (no political puns today, promise) reader will note that I said ‘in passing’ above.  Of course, if invited somewhere to talk about disability specifically then I’d discuss it.  In fact, i’d generally encourage openness about disability and will generally answer most questions, in passing or otherwise.

However, there is a time and a place!! 🙂  I vividly remember one day when I was in Sheffield and a religious person said he wanted me to confess my sins and be cured.  Now I know my way around a bible, so an animated debate around his right to a) make that statement, and b) know that I had sinned, followed.  I’m normally quite relaxed, but this guy happened to catch me on a bad day (we all have them!) so got very short shrift.

If you want to be funny, try stand up comedy.  If you want to become more informed, start a conversation.

The other question I get asked is: what my sex life is like.  Now that I am married to my lovely wife I get to have a bit of less fun with this one(when I was single my responses used to involve a subtle invitation to find out more!).  But yes, people still ask, and yes, it’s still great, thanks!! Quite where that question sits on the 4 guidelines above I’m not sure.

I’d welcome more thought and engagement around disability.  I used to be scared of it myself but then meeting my wife Fran (who is herself disabled) gave me a bit more confidence to be ok in my own skin. Don’t be scared around disability, just ask genuine questions out of a desire to know more about those who are in the world with you.  Beyond what i’ve said above, there really are few right or wrongs.

Making the odd ‘witty’ remark in passing isn’t the way to go about it though.  Particularly if humour is borne out of fear, or worse still i. If you want to be funny, try stand up comedy.  If you want to genuinely become more informed, then start a conversation.


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About the Author

Chris Whitaker was born and grew up in Cheshire, arriving in the world with cerebral palsy after a complex childbirth. Apparently, he was lucky to be here at all and has tried to make the most of life ever since! Chris has worked in the third sector for a few years now and is also a charity trustee. Making a positive difference every day is what drives him and he gets to see the impact the third sector makes. Chris has also been able to use his own lived experience as a disabled person to make an input into his working life.

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