I started my Twitter account 10 years ago. Shortly after I thought I figured out how to use it, I noticed hashtags. They were confusing.
I was frustrated by the lack of spaces between the words in a hashtag, because I was a journalist then.
Once I learned hashtags are used so tweets can be found and seen more easily, I understood and wasn’t frustrated by them anymore.
I haven’t used Twitter much lately, but recently I stumbled upon a new hashtag.
It frustrated me all over again.
The first time I saw #AbledsAreWeird I had no idea what it meant.
Apparently, it’s a hashtag people with disabilities use to tell stories about their interactions with “ableds.”
Ableds, which I didn’t know is a word, are apparently people with no disability.
I’m glad the hashtag has helped people tell their stories, and some of the stories I’ve read just shouldn’t happen.
I don’t have many stories I believe shouldn’t have happened, but I do have cerebral palsy and I do have stories similar to some of the #AbledsAreWeird tweets.
I’m a 33-year-old man, but I have noticed some people talk to me in the same tone I use to play peek-a-boo with my 1-year-old nephew.
People have stopped me in the mall to tell me they’ll be sure to pray for me. Once, a group prayed with me in the middle of a Wal-Mart aisle.
People stare sometimes, and sometimes kids whisper when they see me walk through a store.
Strangers ask if I need help with things.
Folks who know nothing about me other than how I walk have told me I’m an inspiration.
I think #AbledsAreWeird was started to show how these and other interactions might be considered strange if disability weren’t a factor in the situation, and so they might also be considered strange regardless.
I could be wrong about the hashtag, and this is all just my opinion anyway, but I don’t mind any of those things.
I know there are people who are offended by them, and I’m sure they have their reasons, but none of those things offend me. None of them ever have.
I never know quite how to respond to someone who tells me I inspire them, because I’ve never thought of myself as an inspiration, but I don’t mind it. I know it’s usually meant as a compliment.
I know people mean well most of the time when they stop me in the mall to pray, when they hold a door for me or when they ask if they can help in a restaurant.
Sometimes I accept and sometimes I don’t, but it’s always appreciated.
I know stares and whispers happen mostly because people just don’t understand. Sometimes it’s awkward, but awkwardness happens when people don’t understand. I expect it.
When I hear kids ask their parents questions about me, sometimes I wonder if it’s less awkward for the parents if they think I didn’t hear what was asked. I usually pretend I didn’t hear it, unless the kid asks me the question.
I’m always glad to answer when they do ask, because questions help people learn. The more they learn, the more they understand.
I won’t give an answer to a question I’m not comfortable with, but I would much rather people ask me questions than wonder.
Someone posted what I thought was an honest question on the #AbledsAreWeird feed, and I let it go because I thought it would be answered in no time.
I thought wrong.
I never saw the question answered. Apparently it was, but I missed it.
I didn’t miss all of the responses filled with complaints about someone who I thought tried to understand more, but was instead scolded because some people thought the question was meant to shift the focus of the hashtag to those who don’t have disabilities.
I read through most of the feed. Most of it was, at least in part, about people who don’t have disabilities.
It was about interactions between people labeled as disabled and people labeled as able-bodied.
The fact both groups are people seemed lost in a flurry of happenings and the hurry to broadcast them on the internet.
The hashtag is meant to show interactions which might be considered strange if disability were not a factor.
It could have also been a golden opportunity to help people with disabilities and people without disabilities understand more about how to make the world a better place.
Instead, it became a thread where people with disabilities posted about how people without disabilities are weird.
The irony was not lost on me.
Maybe you think I’m wrong about this whole hashtag thing, and it’s OK if you do.
We can disagree, and — despite what I read on the #AbledsAreWeird feed — we can disagree respectfully.
I haven’t looked at the feed lately, but I have pondered how important it is to try to understand each other.
While I pondered, I offered my own answer to an honest question. It turned into a written conversation, which turned into mutual respect from people who understood each other better after some simple communication.
The fact is we were all designed with differences, and we are all weird in our own ways.
The whole thing reminded me of my introduction to hashtags.
Once I took the time to learn what they were, I understood their purpose. Once I understood, I was no longer frustrated.
I saw a lot of frustration when I looked at the #AbledsAreWeird hashtag.
I saw people frustrated by people who asked questions, and I saw people frustrated because they were scolded for a desire to understand.
Questions help people learn. The more people learn, the better they understand.
If we took more time to help one another learn, maybe we wouldn’t spend so much time frustrated by people who don’t understand.