Monday, February 1, 2010

The "cripple nod"

I'm sure all of you have experienced it at one time or another. In fact, I'm sure many of you have initiated it at one point. I'm guilty of it many times in the past. It's the moment when you're wheeling down the street and you encounter another person in a wheelchair. Invariably, he or she will either wave, nod, or acknowledge you in some way. Why? Because you're in a wheelchair too! I like to call this the "cripple nod."

Now, obviously, the "cripple nod" makes a lot of sense. If you're in a chair, you clearly share some of the same experiences as the other person. You've encountered the jerks who take handicapped parking spots from you, you've had to maneuver around curb cuts that are covered in snow and haven't been shoveled, etc. So you get it. And because you get it, you are somebody to acknowledge and perhaps befriend.

I hope it doesn't make me rude or a bad person, but I don't like this line of thinking. To me, the whole point of the Disability Rights movement is to fully integrate those with disabilities into the "able-bodied" community. This is why all buildings should be made accessible, all classrooms should have resources for the disabled, etc. Along those same lines, I just want to be treated like everyone else in the "able-bodied" community. Would you nod at me if I were just walking down the street by myself? Probably not. In that sense, I feel like some others with disabilities are unable to look past my disability. All they see is my wheelchair, and immediately they think they can trust me.

When Chris and I first met, Chris sent his personal assistant over to grab me because I was wearing a Tigers hat. He just wanted to talk baseball. It didn't matter that I was using a wheelchair. And in the grand scheme of things, that's what I want. I want somebody to acknowledge me because I did something nice for them. Or I'm wearing a the hat of their favorite team (or biggest rival). I don't want special recognition simply because I'm sitting down as I make my way down the street...


Geoff and Nikki said...

Nice work guys, I had no idea you were doing this!
Dan, about your dislike of the 'cripple nod'--I think I know what you mean, though obviously only theoretically. However, I wonder if the nod has other analogies. For instance, the honk of a horn along the road when two similar cars pass by each other. I don't know if you remember or not, but my Dad used to drive a Miata. He'd be driving down the road, pass another Miata (not often, but occasionally) and give a light tap on the horn to acknowledge the other Miata's presence--and vice versa as well. Or another example (maybe more familiar) might be like at The Horseshoe, surrounded in a sea of Scarlet and Gray, and you spot another Maize and Blue out there. You give the guy a high-five, whether you know him or not, share similar worldviews/interests/etc (at least you're cheering for the right team!) or not. You just do because you're in Maize and Blue and so is he. Now, both of these are only analogies, and inevitably break down--but I think they are comparable. In each case the one who is unique recognizes his own uniqueness in the other (whether that uniqueness is by choice or not). I don't know if that is so bad. It is a phenomenon, I think, that can only be shared among the unique. The able-bodied don't give each other high-fives simply because they see another able-bodied person, their hand would become sore. And so maybe the 'cripple nod' is something to embrace, as it is a way in which each can share in the uniqueness of the other. It seems as though the 'nod' wouldn't detract from the goal of 'full integration;' but encourage those who, fully integrated or not, will always find their uniqueness in the other. But then again, take this all with a grain of salt, since you know it comes from one who doesn't get to share in the 'cripple nod.'
I hope you keep posting, you're now on the 'Reader'!

Daniel said...

Hey Geoff,

You put some thought into that response! I like it! Anyway, you make some solid points. I think your idea regarding being a part of a unique group is especially interesting. The major difference, in my mind, is that in terms of sports fans, what kind of car you drive, etc., you are CHOOSING to be a member of that unique group. In the case of a disability, you haven't made that choice.

Do you wave at people who have your same hair color? Maybe you do, and maybe we should all acknowledge our traits in that sort of way. So I can possibly be swayed on this topic. And as you mentioned, it may be better for the entire disabled population to embrace ourselves as a group. I just think if somebody wasn't planning on acknowledging my existence otherwise, I'd rather not have it be because I'm using a wheelchair. I feel like, as a society, we should be able to move past that.

Haddayr said...

Love the blog; disagree with the post. I nod as a sign of solidarity.

Comparing it to cars or hair color is not a good comparison. We're a systematically oppressed group of people, many of whom are working to lift that oppression. Brown-haired people are not.

When we're fully integrated into society, with ramps everywhere? We won't need the nod anymore.

Until then, I'm acknowledging that we're all part of the same struggle.

Daniel said...


You make a great point about our group of people being discriminated against or oppressed.

I think the more I think about this topic, and the more I talk it over with people, the more I'm starting to move over to the other side of the issue.

In an ideal world, we wouldn't have to have any sort of solidarity (that's not say, however, that solidarity is bad). But if we're seen as just another person and treated as just another person, then a nod or smile is not as necessary. In reality, that world does not exist.

So in the end, I think I'm using the idea of the cripple nod to illustrate how I want my ideal world to treat me. And I'm trying to do my part to move us closer to that idealistic view. But it's probably naive of me to ignore the reality of the situation and think it's not necessary for us to band together to show strength and fight oppression.

Geoff and Nikki said...

Okay, one more go at this...
The two analogies I gave were admittedly weak. They both dealt with someone's choice to be in the 'minority' (whether a rare car or a traveling fan). But the point still stands, the mutual recognition serves to identify the uniqueness in the other. That is, even if the whole world were 'ramped' and 'accessible', there still would be something unique to recognize in the other. It is not like brown haired people nodding at other brunettes. There is little 'unique' about brown. But green, then I think the nod is justified.
Regardless, it seems the nod will (should?) last until there are more wheel-chair goers than able-bodied types. I say should, because I fear the goal to eliminate the nod is wrong-headed. It seems we should have more nods and more recognition, rather than the anonymity that seems to plague--just keep walking (rolling) and don't look up.
Just a thought.

Lisa S said...

Don't forget about the lesbian nod. Another comparison with some commonalities, and a number of differences. (Particularily the part where they try to look disinterested and mildly sexy when they execute the gesture-- unique to my tribe? I hope so, for everyone's sake.)

Wonderful blog, you guys- we're learning a lot and laughing too. Keep it up- we are loving reading it.