It’s Not Polite to be Disabled


A coffee shop in Virginia is advertising reduced prices for customers who use more words when placing their orders particularly please and thank you. I admit I initially shared this story on my Facebook (ban is finally lifted) from the perspective of a former waitress and barista. I’ve dealt with rude entitlement for dollars an hour with no power to demand respect. The first image in my mind was of a haughty customer busy on their cell phone, pausing only to bark the words “small coffee” at an employee.

But my wonderful varied disabled friends immediately noted the ableism in this pricing scheme. One called it a “social anxiety tax” and another pointed out how it targets people with limited verbal capacity. Others simply said they would never go there. It reminded me that it isn’t polite to be disabled.

Think of the convention that men must stand when a lady enters the room, or all must stand for their social better. Think of how rude it is seen to remain seated for the national anthem or the Lord’s Prayer. Now consider how much harder (or even impossible) it is for some to rise and sit, rise and sit, over and over again.

Slouching or having poor posture is considered disrespectful. Slurred or mumbled speech is too. Stuttering is taken as a personal affront, despite being a benign neurological difference. Nervous habits and stims  aren’t proper, no matter how harmless.

A polite handshake is a firm handshake, no muscular weakness or nerve damage allowed. Being polite means being quiet and still. Having ADHD is not polite. Crying in public is improper. Propping up your feet is rude. Being disabled in public is offensive.

I do think there’s a value in being considerate and respectful. I am increasingly convinced that politeness doesn’t mean those things.

6 thoughts on “It’s Not Polite to be Disabled

  1. Yeah, I’ve thought about this issue too. People have taken offence when I’ve spoken to them without looking them directly in the eye. To be frank, I don’t even think they’re genuinely offended, they’re just bothered about my adhering to “politeness”. There’s a reason why I don’t always look people right in the eye when I talk to them. I find some people to be too overconfident and “in your face” when they meet with me and it makes it hard for me to look at them. It’s similar to how I don’t like that guys feel they have to grip your hand really tightly and shake really hard during handshakes. It all feels like some sort of test or challenge. I know a woman who has the same problem as me, though probably worse, but I’m considerate enough to know it’s not impoliteness, it’s just the best she can do. A guy once pointed out to me that in Japan for example, looking somebody in the eye when talking to them can be seen as disrespectful and as laying a challenge. Looking down as you talk to someone can be seen as a show of respect to that person.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. To be fair, i have severe social anxiety and im ALWAYS polite for that reason. I also have selective mutism with my autism. I dont often talk a lot unless i feel comfortable, but i do say please and thank you, and i tell people to have a nice day or respond “you too” if they say it to me. If you can be polite, you should be. Some disabilities affect it and some dont. Dont judge, but do encourage politeness.

    Liked by 7 people

  3. I have said before, and I think it applies here: Placing etiquette over ethics is applying lubricant to a broken machine: No amount of oil will fix what’s wrong.

    It’s the same here. Prioritizing politeness over accessibility is placing wants over needs, etiquette over ethics. Being offended when a person does what *they need* instead of what *you want* is, bluntly put, selfish bullshit. Last time I checked, Miss Manners doesn’t consider selfishly punishing people for failure to live up to arbitrary standards “polite”.


    Liked by 2 people

  4. For those of us with visual impairments, not making or sustaining eye contact can be perceived as rude, disengaged or even that we are being dishonest. The dominant culture’s expectations about eye contact have a big impact.

    Liked by 1 person

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