I was going to write about how Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that will see the word “handicapped” be phased out from signage across the state, as well as replacing the existing accessibility logo with a new, noticeably more kinetic image. That is, until a good friend of mine with cerebral palsy informed me of something much more worthy of my attention and my anger: The Cerebral Palsy Foundation’s “Just say hi” campaign.
In short, it’s an egregiously outdated movement that encourages people to start conversations with those with disabilities with a simple hello.
For people with CP or any other outwardly visible disability, like myself, this kind of movement is a step in the wrong direction. This alienates us, places us in a position of otherness, and fosters the kind of abled-person’s-burden mentality that so many of us try to separate ourselves from. It reinforces the sense that they should be looking at us and saying, “Hey, I’m doing a great thing and making their day,” that saying hello to a person that isn’t standing up is a great and noble deed that will usher in a new age where those with disabilities are just as welcome as everyone else into conversations.
You aren’t, it isn’t, and cool it with the messiah complex because it’s called ableism and none of us care for it.
Just look take a look at #JustSayHi around social media. It’s hard to find anything except mockery and and anger. There’s even a second hashtag, #JustActNormally, formed in response to the CPF’s initiative. This well-intentioned awareness campaign is having the opposite effect of what it’s meant to, but why?
It’s because at its root, it is patronizing and relies on the idea that the general population doesn’t know how to talk to people in wheelchairs. We’re at a point now, as a society, where saying “hi” to a person in a minority position shouldn’t be something that you give extra thought to. Yet, we have a foundation that exists to better the lives of people with CP enacting a campaign that will only recycle the same tired stigma for the next generation.
To be in the shoes of a person in that position is a hard thing to understand, so let me tell you a story from about six days ago, before I was made aware of the campaign.
I was buying food on campus and waiting for my order to be called when a woman walked up to me, said “hi,” and asked me what my name was. I was taken aback by the utter lack of social grace and forgot to ask her name, but my number was called soon afterwards, and I made my escape from the awkward encounter, the likes of which I hadn’t experienced for a few years now—someone talking to me for the sake of saying “hi” just because it’s a thing to do. I brushed it off, not thinking of it again until I learned of the campaign, but now I suspect that my experience may have been connected.
If you or anyone you know has participated in this campaign, even if it’s just by sharing, stop immediately. Saying “hi” to a person with a disability isn’t your good deed for the day; we feel annoyed and uncomfortable when people do this to us. If you talk to us just to say “hi,” we’ll try to say goodbye as soon as possible.
Featured image credit: Stevepb/pixabay