How to Have Disabled Friends

I know, your first thought is "ummm lolwut?" The wording of this title is probably not one of my brightest and shining moments, but this is an awkward topic for me - and as such I am going to give it an awkward title.

My friend D exited the mall first, she propped the door open with her wheelchair and called behind her:
"Ya got it?" I answered "yeah!" And then zoomed out, but I didn't get far before there was a startled "aahh!" Yelp for help behind us.
D and I quickly spun around and I looked in horror as the door was just about to slam into our friend K. In the time it took me to realize what I should have done, D had charged forward and held the door open - but not before she hollered,
"Sandy clearly doesn't know how to have disabled friends!"
"Hey! I'm trying!"
I protested, feeling somewhat embarrassed and extremely defensive.
"You supposed to hold the door open for the next car in line..." my friend K said to me afterwards.

Although I know D said it with sarcasm and humor in mind, her words did ring true for me. Because after all, (and don't tell her I said this) but D is usually right.. it wasn't until recently that I began hanging out with a crew of other O.I.'ers and wheelchair users.
Let's admit it right now: Just because I am disabled doesn't mean I know how to treat other people who are disabled. This has been a somewhat contradictory concept for me to wrap my mind around. I mean, really, how can I not know how to treat other people who have similar perspectives and views from their wheelchairs?

Never mind wheelchairs or just O.I. - let me give you another example:
One of the projects I'm working on involves participants with a wide variety of disabilities: hearing-loss and deafness, autism, learning disabilities, visual impairments.. the list goes on. As I'm meeting with some of the program participants I am sometimes uncertain of what help I should be providing, and or what assumptions they have about the help I should be already giving. For instance - as I navigated the office with a partially blind program participant, my wheelchair turned on a dime around the awkward column that stood in front of a door -  I didn't take into account that her guide dog was not a machine, and isn't going to respond in the same way. Or as I spoke over the phone with someone who was hard-of-hearing it slipped my mind that I cannot speak in my usual rapid-pip-squeak-motor-mouth manner. I cringed my face as she said to me,
"I am hard-of-hearing and I need you to tell me your email address again slowly.." I thought to myself d'uh I should have realized that! She did, after all, list that on her application..I face-palmed myself at my desk. So I began again, patiently and clearly... "S as in September.." 

Maybe it's because I need to be a little less self-centered, maybe I need to just become more comfortable accepting help for myself, perhaps I need to get used to the idea that just because I do not feel comfortable asking for help - doesn't mean everyone else who is disabled feels the same way.

A large gnawing part of me wants to say, but having friends who are disabled doesn't mean anything different than having friends who are not disabled! And this is true. But in the same way that I am sensitive to any one of my friends who may have had a long day, a bad day, an upsetting problem, or even something incredibly amazingly awesome-sauce he just wanted to tell me about -- I accommodate accordingly, and try to respond to those situations as helpfully as I can. Maybe it would be easier for me to think of it outside the terms of disability, and more in terms of: how can I be a good friend? To me that person is my friend first, and a person who is disabled second.

So often when I get frustrated because someone hasn't pushed their chair in, or because someone has mistakenly placed an orange cone in front of the curb cut - I am frustrated not because of the lack of accessibility and accommodations in that situation, but because there was clearly a lack of common sense that went into that action or gesture.

So let me try that out a little more and make that the forefront of my thinking, rather than how can I help this person who is disabled - we can all be comfortable with common sense, right?

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