"I've bent down to a wheelchair user, now what?" This situation and others like are the focal point of a smart new ad campaign designed to change the way people talk to people with disabilities.
Although it may be a hard thing to admit publicly, many people feel awkward or uncomfortable talking to people with disabilities. While people may believe they are able to hide this discomfort, it's usually painfully obvious to the person on the other side of the encounter.
But it doesn't have to be that way thanks to Scope, a British charity spearheading the clever "End The Awkward" initiative, tackling a common problem with humor and a heaping helping of snark.
While smart to address this issue with humor, Scope has picked up on a crucial but yet often-ignored discussion in society today. Scope realized that while the aspirations of the differently abled are higher than ever before, society's attitude toward them seems to be slow to catch up. The organization's research says two-thirds of people admitted to feeling awkward about talking to people with disabilities and one-fifth of Millennials they surveyed have actually avoided talking to people with disabilities because they weren't sure of the proper etiquette.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 56.7 million Americans (around 20%) reported having some kind of disability in 2010.
And the number is likely to keep growing, making the campaign's goal — to help people realize that while some awkwardness may be natural at first, being patronizing is always the wrong approach — increasingly important.
The ads feature famous British journalist and TV presenter Alex Booker, host of the Last Leg. Brooker, who uses a prosthetic leg, says that while he does realize that most people's awkwardness comes out of a good place — they don't want to offend — he hopes that the campaign will encourage people to get past that barrier.
The campaign also offers tips on breaking the ice when you bump into someone with a disability and has a quiz that can quickly tell you if you need to loosen up in your approach.
Image Credit: Scope
"Awkward situations can be funny. We've all been in situations that have made us cringe," Scope CEO Richard Hawkes notes. "But imagine if every day, people avoided talking to you because they weren't sure what to say or how to act. That's the situation that many disabled people face today. We wanted to raise this issue in a light-hearted way because it isn't about pointing fingers."
So far, the campaign has been met with widespread approval via the #EndTheAwkward hashtag.
Writing about the campaign in a blog published on the BBC, comedian Lee Ridley noted that he's encountered his fair share of awkwardness as people adjust to his cerebral palsy.
"You're not too sure what's up with me either, or how to refer to me, are you? Awkward," he wrote. "Often this comes from people you'd expect might know a thing or two: A doctor once kept calling me physically challenged. I always thought that was a game on The Crystal Maze. Please don't get me started on the taxi driver who opened a conversation by asking me if I was as clever as Hawking!"
But while Ridley is happy to mine humor from these types of situations, there can also be consequences as a result of this type of subtle prejudice.
"I'm fairly sure I've been overlooked for jobs because potential employers couldn't see past my disability," he said. "Of course, if they had asked me, I could have explained how I work and put their minds at rest. They probably felt too awkward to ask but, until that changes, disabled people will always be fighting a losing battle."