|I am not immune|
By Gentle Heron, Virtual Ability Community Member
I have multiple sclerosis and often (used to, before the pandemic quarantine) appear in public using a power wheelchair. Random strangers have said the strangest things to me.
After asking “What do you have?” or “What’s wrong with you?” instead of what they really want to know (“Why are you using that wheelchair?”), they often throw out a follow-up statement such as “Well at least you don’t have epilepsy (or cancer or something else)” or “Oh, my husband’s niece (or other relation) died of that.”
I am a fairly positive person. I don’t believe most people intend to be mean or rude when they make these remarks. I prefer to think they are oblivious to how painful these types of statements can be to the person they are directed at.
Over the years, I have developed some strategies for dealing with this. If I can do so, I simply ignore the statement, and offer a bit of education about MS. I keep it short, thus offering the questioner a chance to escape.
However, if this is a person with whom I will be interacting in the future, I will acknowledge their statement and then change the subject. “Yes, I think it must be tough to have epilepsy. Did you hear about the tiger that got loose in Knoxville?” or “I am sorry to hear about your husband’s niece. Do you think this weather change means we will have an early winter?”
Usually people get the hint, although sometimes I have to apply that strategy a few times before they do.