What the Disabled Would Like You To Know

As the weather keeps heading toward warmer territory, I find it helpful to give yet another talk on how to be sensitive to those around us who are disabled. Con season is beginning, and summer vacations will be here soon as well – all situations where a large amount of people are trying to navigate the same huge crowd. Since these situations can be a little tough on us, here are a few pointers to make everyone’s trip just a little smoother.

  • If you can, leave the elevators’ use to those with disabilities. This is not always possible, of course; if your hotel room is on the 40th floor, nobody is expecting you to hoof it that far. But on a crowded Friday night, if you’ve only got to go up two flights and you’re able to, please do take those stairs. (For those who need an elevator and cannot get one: you can always call security, who can sometimes allow you to use the staff elevators if things get too bad.) Remember that, as an able-bodied person, you have options – stairs, elevators, escalators, ramps, walkways – but we don’t. If you can’t use an elevator, you can use the stairs. If we can’t use the elevator, we’re trapped there.
  • In the same vein, if you’re in a public restroom, please do leave the use of handicapped stalls to the handicapped. I’d go as far as to say that, if there’s a line and it’s the last one available, and you can wait two minutes for a normal stall to come available – do it. And moms, I know that changing babies in public restrooms sucks, but try not to use the big stall for that or nursing, if you can. (Also, anyone who tells you that you need to nurse your baby in the bathroom needs a smack upside the head.)
  • Something that should not need to be said, but I will anyway: There are few ways to show that someone is a complete jerk more quickly than using disabled parking spaces when you do not need or have a permit to. There’s simply no excuse, and if you see someone doing it, report them. On the flipside of this, if someone is using a parking permit and they look okay to you, don’t question it. Not all disabilities are visible!
  • Being in the disabled line for things does give you perks, but personally? I would trade all of them to be able to sit in the regular line with the rest of the fans. I can promise you that nobody in the line is abusing it; everyone with a handicapped ID at a convention has to go through a vetting process that involves telling all your medical problems to someone you don’t know, who then gets to decide whether you get the assistance that you need. So when you see a group of disabled people let in to a panel or ride first, don’t be jealous, and do know that nobody is abusing that privilege. (We wouldn’t allow it. Someone gets caught faking it? I may be in a wheelchair, but my fist still works.) Like I said, I would much rather be in the regular line with you, having the old Kirk/Picard debate. (Picard, thank you.)
  • Being seated all the time, I’m out of your line of sight. Remember that wheelchair users are around you! Nothing is more irritating than having someone decide that you’re not going fast enough, run ahead of you, and then stop suddenly. It can be hard to stop on a dime like that, and I’ve been ejected from my seat a time or two. That hurts.
  • I’m also out of your line of hearing a lot of the time. If I have to raise my voice to ask you something, I’m not being rude – it’s just that I’ve already tried a normal volume and it didn’t work.
  • For large events that require a lot of people standing around (i.e. fireworks), let the wheelchairs go in front of you. I can’t see up past you, but you can see over me perfectly, so everyone wins!
  • Leave the wheelchair ramps for wheelchairs. Skateboarders, I’m looking at you. If there isn’t anywhere else for you to do your thing, then get your friends together, dabble in some activism, and get a small skate park opened in your city!
  • Disabled people can cosplay too! There aren’t too many characters that are wheelchair-bound for us to play, but that shouldn’t mean we’re limited to only them. So if you see Wonder Woman in a wheelchair, give her the thumbs up instead of rolled eyes.

So there you go!

25 replies on “What the Disabled Would Like You To Know”

I used to work for a special recreation association (park district for people with special needs) and all our vehicles had disabled plates/placards.

I’ll never forget parking once at McDonald’s and getting reamed out by some guy who said I was perfectly able to walk, why was I parking in a handicapped spot.  Until he saw the group of teenagers getting out of the van on the other side.  Teenagers with visible disabilities.  He was so embarrassed.  And he deserved to be.

Also, don’t touch other people’s wheelchairs, right?  One of my students is in a wheelchair and I am SHOCKED by how many people come up and push him, or lean on his chair.  Would you want people to lean on your shoulders?  He’s a passive child, and I am trying to teach him to be more assertive in general; this is one of the areas that I’m focusing on.

Thank you for this, especially (as many have already said) about invisible disabilities.  I had a chat with a lady on my commute the other night as a drunk woman told her off for sitting in a disabled spot on the train.  The seats aren’t reserved but, on request, you are obliged to give up your seat.  I’m not sure if the drunk lady had asked the commuter lady for her seat and was turned down, but drunk lady got quite irate and started yelling at commuter lady about politeness and then started swearing (enjoy the irony).  I had my earphones in so missed most of it but commuter lady had it well in hand telling drunk lady to fuck off in both verbal and sign language.  She told me she had the seat as it is one of the only spots you can properly see the visual station announcements.  People need to just mind their business!

On another note, and I know this isn’t one that one person can answer for all people with disabilities, but I’m never quite sure if I should offer to help.  What I mean is that I’m on public transport for several hours a day and I often am getting on and off alongside blind commuters (likely people with all sorts of disabilities and abilities, but I’ve mostly noticed there are a few blind commuters along my route).  So, I generally just stay out of the way.  Today one commuter had a dog and I didn’t want to distract the dog and he seemed like he knew what was what and got himself sorted out.  I guess my thinking is that if someone wants help or seems lost I’ll offer but beyond that I’ll just carry on?  Does anyone have any tips for being helpful but not weird?  I’ve noticed some people try to help one guy from my office out by touching him and steering him away from dangerous objects.  He is blind and responds by yelling really loudly for them to let go (strangers grabbing you would be super scary), but sometimes he’s about to walk down an up escalator or has walked full bore into a pillar so I can understand where they’re coming from in some of these situations but, equally, total strangers touching me would likely meet with the same reaction.  So, does anyone have ideas about how to draw the line between being actively helpful and being patronizing or startling? I guess, as I write this, that it is likely a case by case, person by person basis as with any social etiquette, but I’ll leave my question out there as there’s always more to learn about etiquette.

I think, in general, most people would prefer not to receive unrequested assistance, beyond giving  the courtesy you should give to anyone else making their way through their day (not crowding them on public transit, not taking up more room than necessary, moving out of the doorway in elevators and trains, holding the door for someone behind you, etc.). Service dogs shouldn’t be messed with, even if they’re super adorable and you just want to pet and hug them. It seems rude, especially if you’re a dog person like I am, but the most courteous thing you can do in terms of a service dog is ignore it. Other than that, most people who I know who have visible disabilities have their own routines and such, and appreciate being left alone (and not stared at, although I seriously doubt any PMag readers need to be told that) more than offers of assistance beyond giving up seats and holding a door and the like.

Ditto what PoM said about people with service dogs: the dogs are working, and the vast majority of the time doing an excellent job, so I’d never just jump in and ‘help’ (beyond e.g.: holding a door open) unless asked.

Otherwise, would love to hear from Persephoneers with disabilities about what they think.

For the last ten years of her life, my mom had severe RA and COPD, so she used a disabled placard in her car. She was able to walk, but she’d start to hurt and get winded really quickly. I can’t tell you how many times I saw people give her the side-eye, and I wanted to kick them all in the shins. Thanks for this article, it’s filled with great advice.

Also, Team Picard. Rawr.

Additionally, if anyone is accusing folks of “faking it” to use services for the disabled, I’ll kick them in the shins, too. I think it’s a much better scenario to have someone who doesn’t need services get them than someone who does need them not having them available. Plus, that kind of negativity goes against everything that is good and right about cons. We ALL get to play at cons, no matter what, that’s half of what makes them so magical.

In your opinion, do you think con organizers do enough to ensure accessibility for all? Do they pick accessible venues, traditionally?

Thank you for posting this. I just had to call my apartment this week and ask them to tag someone’s car who has been parking in the disabled spot I use in the garage. I felt really awful about it at the time. I don’t always *need* that space closest to the elevator but when I do? I really do. Your post makes me feel better about doing that – everyone said it was fine but somehow I still felt bad. Apparently before me there had never been any disabled residents in the building so they had never enforced the handicapped spaces? Weird.

I also tend to avoid eye contact at the grocery store due to the shitty glares I’ve caught since my disability isn’t as ‘visible’ as some. Before my hair started growing back I was always tempted to rip my cap off and give them a big old, “It’s fucking cancer, dipshits!” but I’m a lady and refrained. Also I don’t need to prove anything. It’s ridiculous. Take your judgmental bullshit elsewhere. I’ve got groceries to buy and a nap to take.

I feel bad that at conventions you often have to “prove” your disabilities to get your tags/passes. My cousin has a disability (a couple, I guess) and when we were kids he would get the disabled pass at amusement parks, but my understanding is that they couldn’t ask about what specifically was wrong with him–his parents just had to say he had a disability. But maybe at places where people would take advantage, they can’t be trusting? But then I dunno, this was at Disney Land. Also, we totally didn’t get how rude this was at the time (I think I was like 11?), but when there was a ride he was too scared to go on, he did let the rest of us use his pass to go in the handicapped line once. We were such jerk kids.

I know from my experiences, it’s not so much having to “prove” you’re disabled as to explain what accommodations you need, for example I request a chair in line, but there’s a chance I’ll be wheeling it for the weekend, because they know what I have, they know to expect that I could be walking or wheeling.

Also, if I have a collapse/faint, and my husband isn’t around? Someone else knows wtf is going on with me and it’s nice to know I won’t have everyone going “Oh she’s just drunk!” like most people do if I have a blood pressure crash right now.

When I was a kid, my dad would park in Handicapped parking spaced with the flippant excuse, “I’m mentally handicapped.” As a kid, I didn’t realize how offensive that was, on so many levels. Now I NEVER park in handicapped spots and have on a few occassions told my friends not to park in those spaces when we are out and about.

Bottom line, people just need to be considerate of others.


1. One of my gal pals from college married a guy about seven years older than her (so he’s 30 now, I believe), and he messed up his knees playing soccer when he was a teen. He never bothered attending to the injuries then, so they became much worse, and now he ought to have knee replacements except doctors won’t allow it because he’s too young. So, they have a handicap sticker in their car, and they get eye rolls because they are both young and technically, he can walk, but it’s really painful for him.

2. Picard all the way.

3. I really appreciate this article, especially with the reminder about being out of eye line and hearing range. That is honestly something that I hadn’t thought of before, so thank you for informing me!

Well since joint replacements theoreticallylast about a decade, that means that by 40, for this guy, he’d be sure for another major surgery, then another at 50, 60, and so on. That shit gets expensive! I think that is a major contributing factor to the issue. In the meantime, he gets cortisone shots and limits his physical activity.

I’ll likely need a knee replacement, but every orthopedic specialist has pretty much forbidden me from getting one until I’m at least 45. I don’t know how I’ll make it another dozen years, but I just keep thinking how much the technology will have gotten better by then.

I had a dream I parked in the disabled parking space and I was so upset with myself that I did that.

I think “Don’t be an arsehole” is a good summing up of it all really. I  got really upset when my partner and his brother would disconnect the controls on their brother’s electric wheelchair. Sure, how would you like it if we embedded your legs in concrete and you couldn’t go anywhere? That’s basically what you’ve just done to your brother. Now reconnect his controls you arsehole.

I think he may have got a good swipe around the ears. We had so many other things with which we could rag on my BIL (his pube like hair, his weird food habits), we didn’t need to take his wheels from him! His wheels was such an important part of him that it got me so riled up when they did that.


There are a LOT of invisible disabilities. I’m 32 and I have a medical textbook’s worth of them, and a handicapped parking tag, and you oughta see the looks I get…

I have to jump through a LOT of hoops to get that tag. So if someone’s got it? They deserve it.

I also have a number of invisible disabilities. No parking tag (yet. Could probably get one, but I still have way more good days than bad days.)

I do want to add something: Don’t block the bathroom door! As someone with Crohn’s Disease, I’ve been at cons where a group of people will be standing in the bathroom door, chatting away. Um, GTFO.

(And I’ve NEVER had a problem saying “I have Crohn’s Disease, does anyone mind if I jump the line?” I’m lucky that no-one has thrown shade my direction for that… fortunately, have only had to do it 2 or 3 times in my life. Heck, a few times, I’ve just looked desperate, and as soon as I’ve walked into the bathroom, other women have been all “You look like this is an emergency. Please just go.”)

Can we just take all bathroom conversations out into the waiting area, please? I’m always really annoyed when people just stand around and have a good chat. If you need to fix your hair or makeup or gossip, then fine, but don’t gab for 15 minutes.

This used to be a recurring issue at three separate jobs. People would just walk in to the restroom and spend 15 minutes chatting away with one another.



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