Disability and Representation

Changing the Cultural Conversation

Why Is My Cane a Topic of Elevator Conversation?

Apparently, questioning my use of a cane has become a go-to topic of conversation when I’m riding the elevator in my building. You’ll remember that it happened a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday, when I got home from vacation, an older gentleman walked into the elevator with me and said, “You walk awfully well to be using a cane. You sure you don’t just use it to beat off the guys with a stick?”

Okay, so I got the two implied compliments: you seem to be able to walk well (although why that’s the source of a compliment actually escapes me) and you’re so good looking that you have to defend yourself against too much attention. I can’t say I was offended, exactly. That would be too strong a word. The guy was just trying to make conversation. What I felt was more like boredom mixed with annoyance: boredom because people need to start changing up their themes when it comes to making small talk with me, and annoyance because I was really floored by how free he felt to talk about something as personal as my body.

Now, I don’t mind if someone I know well says, “I see you’re using your cane today. Are you having difficulties with your hip?” or “I see you’re not using your cane today. Is your hip doing well?” And by someone I know well, I mean someone who would visit me in the hospital if I were sick and bring me flowers. Those folks can comment. Everyone else is just breaking a boundary.

Anyway, after I heard this latest iteration of “What do you need that cane for?” I just paused, looked at the guy, and said very seriously, “The cane helps me.” I didn’t really care whether he thought I meant “helps me walk without pain” or “helps me defend myself.” I just cared that I said something to deflect the intrusion.

Next time, I might just roll my eyes and then stare silently at the person until we get off the elevator. These comments are getting old very fast.

© 2014 by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

  1. 1/24/2014 | 5:01 pm Permalink

    “The cane helps me” is a good, low-stress phrase. Sorry to let you know that you’re only going to stop hearing these “witticisms” if you change mobility aids.

    (I use a powerchair. The number of people who admonish me to slow down or they’ll give me a speeding ticket is very very large. At this point, I say, “you’re just jealous” as I speed away.)

  2. 1/24/2014 | 5:51 pm Permalink

    I just don’t understand why people feel the need to pry so excessively. It’s just nobody’s damn business why somebody use a cane or any other mobility aid. I would be tempted to reply with something like, “It helps me identify nosy busybodies.”

  3. 1/25/2014 | 2:52 am Permalink

    “The number of people who admonish me to slow down or they’ll give me a speeding ticket is very very large.”

    The monotony of those people is only broken by those who feel the need to inquire as to whether I have a licence for “that thing”. (I use a mobility scooter or a powerchair.) Then there was the chap who grabbed me – from behind – to admonish me for writing on an envelope … while parked, on my scooter, out of the way. He got a loud “DON’T TOUCH WOMEN YOU DON’T KNOW.” Strangers stared.

  4. 1/25/2014 | 9:00 am Permalink

    Hi. I appreciate your perspective about boundaries and I like your response. It continues to astonish as to why people feel they can make comments without knowing someone’s context.

  5. 1/25/2014 | 9:00 am Permalink

    I also like your blog overall. Thanks for writing it!

  6. 1/26/2014 | 12:00 pm Permalink

    I think you’re really onto something with the “boredom” idea. I think sometimes we mislabel our emotional reactions to “ableism” as anger, when really it’s often just boredom. Like, “Really? That’s the best you can think of to say to me?”

  7. 2/21/2014 | 6:30 pm Permalink

    i think people feel it’s ok to ask us questions that they would not ask an ‘abled-bodied’. i’m all for conversation, but i’m against explaining myself into ‘i’m not like you land’.