Giving Others Time to Adjust

I usually see it in their eyes. They feel uncomfortable and don’t know how to behave. Maybe it’s my wheelchair or my crooked finger joints or stiff arm gestures. I have a feeling, but it goes unstated. I know I need to be gentle, to slow down and let them adjust.

When I was a child, adults would talk down to me and I could hear the change in their voice when they spoke to me versus other children. It absolutely enraged me. And because I was a child I would dismiss them with unkind words or talk down to them right back. Even at a young age I knew that I was being treated differently because my rheumatoid arthritis made me look different. Somehow disability was equated in their minds with inability, and therefore I could not be treated respectfully.

Sympathy and Patience

As an adult, I have more sympathy and patience, but only so much. I can sense the discomfort people unaccustomed to encountering people with disabilities or physical differences convey with their averted eyes and loss of words. In these moments I give them time. I’ll talk about a subject we can connect on (maybe the weather, small talk—nothing mentally challenging). Let them breathe a minute, get a grasp on their thoughts and regroup.

And it usually works. They calm down and remember themselves. They realize that I’m just a person, like them. Natural thought and conversation return.

I get it and have had my own moments where I’ve needed to adjust. Novelty is strange and I know that my joint deformities and difference are extremely apparent. With a little time and understanding, most people can recover.

Immediate Ease

It impresses me when I meet a new person and feel their immediate ease. I feel like it either is someone used to people with disabilities, accustomed to interacting with a wide range of diverse people, or just naturally relaxed no matter the situation. I also wonder if greater integration of people with disabilities into workplaces and communities may have also helped. In recent decades: advocacy, laws, and improvements in accessibility mean more people with disabilities participate in public life, and therefore are becoming more commonplace and accepted.

There are plenty of situations where I don’t mind being underestimated. While I couldn’t stand it as a child, I now know the advantages of floating under the radar. If a person mistakenly thinks my disease and disabilities mean I understand less or provide less value, there is much I can observe while they operate under these false beliefs. I can follow my own agenda or work it in stealthily in my own chosen time and place.

But I prefer that a person comes around, sees me as a another human, and maybe has a moment of learning. I certainly learn all the time when I meet people from a variety of backgrounds. I benefit from these encounters, from expanding my perception and knowledge of the world. For example, I know that my disabilities are unique in many ways. I use a wheelchair, but I can stand and walk a little. Other wheelchair users do not walk at all, but may have more arm strength and flexibility. Just a couple examples of how we are all different, including people with disabilities.

Humanity is not a monolith…

Humanity is not a monolith. We’re all different and need to adjust when interacting with other people because we cannot have all the answers at all times. Instead, I think we need to give each other a moment, take a breath, remember our own humanity and connect to another person.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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