I recently met a man who was in a wheelchair. We introduced ourselves and talked for several minutes. During the time he was seated in the wheelchair, I stood in front of him, talking back and forth. He was looking up at me and I was looking down at him. After I left I began to wonder if I had been impolite or disrespectful to him by talking to him from a higher position. Would it have been better if I crouched alongside him so that our faces were of about equal height? Or would this be putting undue focus on his disability? Does it make any difference if it’s someone you meet for the first time or have known for a while and are comfortable with?
Richard, Gender : M, Sexual Orientation: Straight, Race : white/American Indian, Religion : Native American, Age : 54, City : Los Angeles, State : CA, Country : United States, Education level : Over 4 Years of College, Social class : Upper class, 10874
Nope. Not disrespectful at all. People talk from varying heights in all situations. If you’re looking for a guideline on when and if you should move to a lower physical position to communicate, that depends on the nature of the conversation, the duration, etc. You already hit on the answer in your question. Comfort. For everyone involved. If you’re going to talk for a while, about serious things, maybe try to find somewhere to sit where you’re comfortable, too. Then you’re both on even ground – because part of people crouching is that it looks uncomfortable to me and it looks temporary – mainly because of that appearance of discomfort. If it’s a quick “hey what’s up” and related pleasantries or other short chat, then really no need.
Kimberley B., Gender : F, Sexual Orientation: Straight, Race : White/Caucasian, Religion : Toltec, Age : 40, City : Whitefish, State : MT, Country : United States, Disability : Double Above Knee Amputee, Occupation : Magazine Editor, Education level : Less than High School Diploma, Social class : Middle class
I use a wheelchair and for shorter conversations, no I don’t mind that someone is looking down at me. However, because I have severe osteoarthritis in my neck from my accident, for long conversations; the able-bodied person either gets down to my level or misses out on eye-contact. I’m not trying to be rude or being inattentive as to what they’re saying, but if I look up for more than say five minutes this really does get quite uncomfortable for me. I do, however, recognize that eye contact is important and so if it’s going to be a longer conversation, I simply explain that because I dislocated my neck and it hurts to look up, I cannot continue looking up. I ask if they’d mind sitting — or just understand that I’m going to stare at their sternum for the rest of the conversation.
HiediR, City : San Diego, State : CA, Country : United States
See the Dare To Ask column on this topic here.