When 'Just Saying Hi' is a Problem

Image description - The conversation starts when you #justsayhi.
A hand is in the air.  The logo below reads, 'Cerebral Palsy Foundation' 

I was in the shopping centre on the weekend, and a Sad-Sweet-Smiler walked past and said hello.  Smiling sadly and sweetly and sympathetically.

If you are not physically disabled, you will not know about Sad-Sweet-Smiler Sympathy Syndrome.

It's a sympathetic smile of solidarity from a passerby. They clearly imagine that I am lonely or sad or in need of a Non-Disabled Hug from a fellow shopper.

Here's a news flash - no, I don't.

There's this shitty campaign going about 'just saying hi' to disabled people. It's been going a while now and I am kind of grateful it has not gotten much currency in Australia. It's bad enough with people leaping out of the way and apologising (even if you are a metre away) or the endless 'sorries' - I counted 37 in a Westfield one day. It's like they are apologising for you being disabled.

But 'just saying hi' to a disabled person in a shopping centre? When you don't 'say hi' to anyone else?

And with me, there's another complication. I have a condition called prosopagnosia, which is otherwise known as face-blindness. It doesn't mean you're just 'bad with faces', it's a diagnosed clinical condition. Most of the time, I have no idea who the hell you are, unless you have a really distinctive face, are in a place where you are in context, use a mobility aid or whether I have taken the time to memorise your face for a while.

Once I mistook one friend (from my home state) for another friend (in another state), just because we were in another state and they both used crutches. One is blonde, one is brunette and they look nothing alike. Ridiculously embarrassing.

So you can imagine the consternation I face when you come up to me and 'just say hi' in the shopping centre, you Sad-Sweet-Smiling bastard. 
Do I know you?

SHOULD I know you?

Have I forgotten you?

How should I react?

Oh, but wait. You're sad-sweet-smiling at me because I am a cripple. I see.

Do not do this. Ever. It's patronising, ableist and for disabled people who face intrusive questions every day of their lives, it's completely shit. You don't have any right as a non disabled person to demand engagement from a disabled person just because you want your warm-fuzzy-feelz today. We don't belong to you, we do actually have some kind of reasonable expectation of privacy and we are not the Provider of Cookies for the Sad-Sweet-Smiler Sympathy Syndrome Sufferers.

This campaign is as problematic as Stella's Challenge. If you meet us for the first time, say hello. If you are about to engage in a usual interaction with a transaction, feel free to greet us. But we are not here to make you feel better about yourself.

Don't just say hi. Treat us like you'd treat everyone else.


  1. I do get it. People feel much more comfortable engaging me in random conversation than they would with anyone else. And if I'm on a train trying to read my book, it can be annoying. But it's gonna happen whether I wanted to or not, so mostly I take the opportunity to chat. I mean, it's can be interesting to talk to a stranger.

    Of course, you're giving good advice so I'm not disagreeing with you. And we have every right to ignore random strangers' interjections. Who cares if they think we are grumpy cripples – we've got a right to be so! But it can be enjoyable to enter into the random conversation – at least some of the time.


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