Dare to ask: Mind if I crouch and join you?

By Phillip Milano

Question

I recently met a man in a wheelchair. After I left, I wondered if I had been impolite by talking to him from a higher position. Would it be better if I had crouched alongside him?

Richard, 54, Los Angeles

Replies

There is no need to crouch as if stooping to speak to a child. Just because someone is in a wheelchair does not mean they are stupid - I have a 160 IQ.

Susan, 37, have lupus, Chicago

If you're going to talk for a while, about serious things, maybe find somewhere to sit where you're comfortable, too. If it's a quick "hey what's up" or short chat, then really no need.

Kimberley, 40, double above-knee amputee, Whitefish, Mont.

I'm sure the man you were talking to realizes his situation and accepts that just about everybody he talks to is taller than he is. Does an NBA player crouch down when he speaks to somebody shorter than he is? The only reasons I can think of to crouch is if it's a child, or some sort of a king who will have you beheaded if you don't.

Ron, 60, Stockton, Calif.

I would've asked him if he'd be more comfortable with you sitting. My neck hurts when I've been looking up at someone while we converse.

D., 51, morbidly obese female, Fort Worth

During the months I spent in a wheelchair, I would have appreciated someone crouching when we spoke at length, because my neck would get sore if I had to look up for long.

Kathy, Calgary

Expert says

At first we thought we'd just get comments from your average person who hangs out in a wheelchair and stuff.

Then we found out about this kid who goes upside-down in his. So we rolled with him.

Aaron Fotheringham, 17, of Las Vegas, has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair. Does that stop him from doing the insane things any red-blooded teen might do? Guess.

Fotheringham, an Extreme wheelchair athlete, nailed what's believed to be the first backflip in a wheelchair when he was 14. (Don't believe us? Type his name in at Google Video, right now - oh yeah, like you're not online at work. Wear headphones and keep an eye on the rear-view mirror you put on your screen for just these moments.)

So, what does he say about people who crouch down?

"I do get upset. It's like stooping to my level. It makes it look like, 'oh, the little kid.' "

Adults do it the most.

"They think they want to make eye contact . . . I know they're not purposely being mean, but it's just insulting."

Not as bad as an able-bodied person taking the handicapped bathroom stall, though.

"That's my biggest pet peeve. Sometimes to make them look bad, I'll get up and use the regular stall and leave my wheelchair outside. They're like 'Oh . . . ' They'll come out and make eye contact and then lower their head and leave.

"And I'm like 'Yeah, you should be ashamed!' "

Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee), moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers. Send general column comments to phillip.milano@jacksonville.com. You can also hear his podcasts or watch his TV spots.