Most disabled people will tell you that interacting with able-bodied people can be awkward sometimes. Most of the time this is because people don’t know how to interact with disabled people, or they are trying not to offend them. I have had my fair share of awkward moments when meeting new people for the first time. Handshakes are a particular minefield.
One of the most awkward things for me are handshakes. I can’t open my hand because of my high muscle tone, so it is closed most of the time. And I find it hard to lift my arms up in the air. So when people try to shake my hand it has great potential for an awkward moment! I find that there are generally three types of people in this situation.
The Confident Shakers
The first type are the Confident Shakers. These are the best people. They realise I can’t lift my arms up or open my hands, and don’t expect me to do so. They just shake my closed hand, which avoids any awkwardness. Hurrah! Alternatively they will pat me on the shoulder (I’ve even had kisses from random people I’ve not met before, but they were usually drunk!). These type of people are generally quite lively and talkative and so there are very few awkward silences as well. I like these people best!
Rabbits In The Headlights
The second type are “the rabbits in the headlights”. These are the most awkward. They generally don’t seem confident and don’t know how to approach me. They just seem a bit startled! They hold their hand out and wait for me to shake it. I can’t so I just have to leave them hanging. Obviously I try to explain why I don’t shake their hand, but if I’m in a nightclub this is almost impossible. So they might think I am being rude, and even if I do manage to explain why I didn’t shake their hand it might make them feel bad for not realising. So before you know it we both feel a bit awkward, and this makes it hard to get a conversation going. I think this type of people haven’t had much contact with many disabled people before so are not sure of how to approach them.
The third group are the “fist bumpers”. They see my closed fist and give me a friendly fist bump. These people are better than the “rabbits” but it’s a little bit embarrassing. It makes me look ghetto and I assure you I most certainly am not! Call me old-fashioned but I prefer the traditional handshake (or fist shake in my case) over a fist bump. I’m just not “cool” enough for that!
So if in future you want to shake my hand be confident, be enthusiastic and don’t be afraid. After they are only handshakes!