Around this time last year, I met a boy who had a visible mobility difficulty but who never mentioned it or explained it to me. The second time we met was in a pub; I had to be upfront with him about my impairment because I was about to carry full pints back to our table and had to be careful not to spill them. I think that if he thought it were worth mentioning his own disability, he would have brought it up at that time. He never did, so I don’t think he believed that his own mobility was enough of a concern to mention. If he thought it were important to tell me about it, he would have.
A few months later, a mutual friend of ours told me what his disability was. I understood why she had, but – at the same time – she had no business telling me. That was his news to tell (and no one else’s, no matter how close the person was to him). A few weeks later, he and I were in a social situation where my disability came up in conversation and I explained it to someone I’d never previously talked about it with. Again: at this time, he could have mentioned his own disability – because it actually happens to be very similar to mine – but he didn’t.
The truth is that I never would have asked him about his mobility. I can admit that I might have when I was younger – simply out of curiosity – but now I wouldn’t. I would have let him tell me in his own time and would have accepted if he chose never to tell me what it was. Knowing about it now has changed my perception of him in a way I never wanted it to, and I now unthinkingly ‘use’ his disability to understand him (as people have done and still do with me) and I don’t like that. But, then again, it’s something I do now without even consciously thinking about it. I am now, by default, more patient, tolerant, sensitive, and understanding, just as people tend to be with me when they see or are informed of my disability.
I wish I hadn’t been told what his mobility problem was and that I had let it be unknown and unmentioned. My disability has never mattered to him; he doesn’t treat me like I am special. He tells me off, gets mad at me, and is honest with me like he is with anyone else. In fact, he calls me out when he feels I am playing the victim, reminds me how lucky I am to have the support I do for all the therapy I receive, and has no compunction about being truthful (and sometimes hurtful). I don’t think he intends to hurt me or toughen me up; he is just unwilling to be gentle with me the way most people tend to be. I think that, because he has a disability himself, he doesn’t see my disability as something that makes me excusable or exceptional (because he doesn’t see himself in that light). He doesn’t victimize himself and he doesn’t use his disability as an excuse for anything.
In England, people don’t ask about other people’s disabilities. People are conservative and also embarrassed to ask. More than one English person has told me that, if English people ask, it’s because they believe that I have a trivial injury that may be freely and openly discussed. They wouldn’t mention it if they believed it to be a disability. I’ve been told to consider it in that spirit when anyone asks me or I have to tell people in order to ask for help. I think, if he ever needed my help or we ever ran into a situation where he had to tell me what his disability was, he would tell me.