Aug 1, 2012

Questions: Where do they come from?

SCI-BC from Vancouver, British Columbia asks:

Do different groups of people ask you different types of questions in public?

As a matter of fact, they do.

On the surface this sounds like a simple question with a simple and obvious answer. I find the answer to be a lot more complex than people may realize. I'm going to divide the answer into several distinct groups that I notice, and elaborate on each of them.

1. People who are elderly.

Elderly people make up the most interesting group. While generally they come from the same one or two generations, the questions they ask also come from their own personal background as well as the people they know.

Some of them are simply not used to the idea of people in wheelchairs being able to live active lives, and their questions and observations show that. Comments like "It's so nice to see you out" indicate that they do not expect to see you participating in society, period.

There is also another type of person in this group that I find extremely interesting, and that is the group that is asking the questions for their own interest. Some of them may have mobility impairments already and are asking questions like "How accessible do you find Vancouver?" partly for their own interest (and they often do not hesitate to share their own concerns about getting around as their own medical condition progresses).

Some also ask for their friends for similar reasons; their friend may have a condition that will progress in the future, necessitating the use of a wheelchair or other mobility device.

I find that it is really two extremes: either it is someone who does not have concerns about his or her own mobility or someone who does.

2. People who are elderly AND in the same racial category as me.

I am a Asian Canadian. I get it. If you are one of the elderly people who did not grow up here, it is a bit intimidating to talk to people in a culture and country that you are not completely familiar with. I have lived and worked abroad before and understand this. It is always a comfort when someone speaks your language and come from a similar cultural background.

The types of questions that elderly Asians ask are slightly different. Instead of asking about accessibility, I find that the questions often revolve around family and group dynamics. They ask a lot about how things affect family members, or whether they help if something is inaccessible and so on. Their thoughts are less centered on the individual and more on the family or group, which is one of the more well-known cultural differences between Asia and the West.

Another type of question they might ask is related to numbers. For some reason, elderly Asians who have asked me questions often ask about how much things like my wheelchair cost, how much time I spent in rehab, how long it takes to do something and so on. I have no idea why this is but it has happened to me numerous times and I find it quite fascinating.

3. Friends of someone who is in a wheelchair

This group is not shy. Obviously it is partly because they are already familiar with many aspects of wheelchair users. Predictably, the questions I get from them are more comparative; for example, they may ask something about me or how I do something, and compare it to their friend.

Personally, I do not think this is fair since everyone's condition is different – someone else with the same spinal cord injury level and type as me may have completely different issues. To take an example from someone I know who is gay, it is like how one gay person who comes from the same background as another gay person may have different concerns, tastes and so on.

But what about those who never ask questions?

This is interesting to me: the people who never ask questions tend to be those under the age of thirty. Teenagers never ask me questions. Children never ask me questions (except for that one time at Tim Hortons). University students often do not ask me questions. I do not know if this is because of the "don't stare" mentality turning into a "don't acknowledge" mentality but they are usually the quietest. Go figure.

Post-script: These are only from my experiences and other people may have different viewpoints. Remember, I do not represent everybody and what happens to me may not happen to other people. It really depends.

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