The Scooter Police: Of unsolicited advice from strangers and disability

Ever get unsolicited advice? Sure, everyone has.

And it can be really annoying, even when it’s well intentioned. Because the truth is that it’s unsolicited. The person giving the advice does so without asking or maybe even considering whether you want it – or need it. (Those are two separate issues, but as adults, we have the right to determine whether we want to hear it anyway!)

Before I acquired quadriplegia (ebay Item # 34890), I received some unsolicited advice. It didn’t happen frequently and it really wasn’t an issue in my life. I would set a boundary and the other person either would or wouldn’t back off, but it just didn’t occur too often.

However, since I’ve been disabled, unsolicited advice from relative strangers occurs more frequently. It often comes in the guise of “If I were you, this is how I would handle being a quad”. And this coming from people who walk and can move their arms, hands and fingers appears ridiculous to me. Especially when you add the factor that this person may just have met me or only has occasional contact with me and really knows nothing about what my life is about.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that I never need advice. It’s just that I have certain people whom I will ask advice of – those I’ve selected over my years of living. Some of those people are able bodied, so that’s not the only criterion I’m using. But certainly they are people who know me intimately.

It’s a privacy issue. I don’t really want to hear what someone thinks she would do if she was a quad. Nor do I want to hear how she disagrees with the way I handle my disability.

Yesterday a woman approached me in the grocery store while I was shopping. She said “I really think, if I was you, that I would use one of those scooters to shop. Why don’t I go with you and we’ll get you one?”

Now I can’t use a scooter because I don’t have the trunk control to sit up in one. Nor can I transfer into one in the first place. I always get a mental picture of myself draped over a grocery scooter cart and someone on the intercom saying “Pickup in aisle three – quadriplegic down.”

This is not the first time someone has approached me and told me I should use a scooter. In fact, I call these folks the Scooter Police. I wonder what their deal is – have they raised money to buy these scooters so they want to make sure they’re utilized fully? Do they sell these scooters?

My reply to her was a simple “No.”

Like others before her, she continued on. She had everything but the Scooter Police badge. “But those scooters are meant for people like you to help you. If I were you, I’d do everything I could to make things easier on myself.”

“This is none of your business,” I replied, meanwhile trying to decide if I wanted cherry or strawberry yogurt.

When I looked up she had left. Boundary set, encounter over.

And I’m thinking “This is why I use Peapod.” But it’s interesting, I suppose, to watch able bodied people imagine how they would handle my disability.

I just wish they wouldn’t share.

Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan

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1 Comment

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One response to “The Scooter Police: Of unsolicited advice from strangers and disability

  1. Abhijit

    Just came here through The Gimp Parade. Yeah, I can see your point

    I’ve some hearing impairment and use hearing aids. They do work to some extent but don’t really give me that 100% performace they advertise about. In the 4 years I spent at college, I came across several people, students and teachers alike, who would first suggest that I get a hearing aid (I use ITCs so they couldn’t ‘see’) and then suggest I ought to get better ones. There was even this guy who wanted me to try some bogus spiritual therapy and went as far as to recommend a “practiotioner”. As if.

    Anyway, the one unsolicited advice that I think that kind of stands out is from someone who himself was hearing impaired. Get this, I was meeting this person the first time, and he had absolutely no knowledge of my condition or medical history. All he knew was that I had this impairement, and he cornered me into a conversation.

    He started out by asking me who my doctor was. I told him I wasnt taking any treatment anymore now that I was using hearing aids. He then recommended his doctor to me. Next he asked, how much they had cost. He was shocked when I told him and replied that his own had cost him a quarter than that. His advice was, that since my more expensive hearing aids weren’t as good as his I ought to go for the cheaper ones. That BTEs weren’t bad and I shouldn’t avoid them just because they were visible. That my problem is not something I should hide, et cetera, and finishing off with a pathetic understanding smile.

    I don’t remember returning his smile and I definitely didn’t reply, just muttered and shuffled off. Of the many such incidents this is the one that pissed me off the most. It’s not like I haven’t recieved this kind of advice before. People in general, seem to assume that when something is wrong with you, you want to hide it. Comments have been made about me using my long hair as disguise. But, what the fuck was this guy thinking ? I can’t imagine that he himself never recieved unsolicited advice. I later observed him, and it wasn’t like his hearing was cent percent normal.

    Anyways, also during college, a person contacted me regarding his son who had hearing impairment. He wanted to know about the affirmative action policies of my college and some general details on how I managed in class, etc. We had a short frank conversation and after that I never saw him or his son. I don’t know if talking to me was of any use to him or not, and I didn’t feel supreme or generous, or like I was being a big help or shit.

    So I guess, if someone were to advice me this way, when I was asking for it, and when they know fully well that I can choose to accept or reject it, I would listen. But if they come sneaking up on me without rhyme, reason, knowledge and understanding, then they can go to hell.

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