Dare to ask: Mind if I crouch and join you?
By Phillip Milano
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
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.
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
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?
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,
"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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also hear his
podcasts or watch his