It’s Not all Doom & Gloom: The Funny Side of Disability

In future posts, I intend to discuss the reality of disability and its effect on a person’s mental health, as well as my journey of recovery. It is my hope that it will offer an honest glimpse into the struggles we face and how much further we must progress as a society, but that it will also offer hope to others who are struggling. But for all its negatives, disability can have a funny side. Good humour is essential, and having a disability provides plenty of opportunity for a great laugh; whether it be hilarious misfortune, awkwardness, accidental comedic moments or disability jokes of which there are plenty. Those of an easily offended disposition may wish to stop reading here, but if you can to crack a smile regardless, read on.

The injuries are epic

Many of us are accident prone by nature. Sometimes it’s sheer clumsiness, sometimes it’s a failure or misjudgement when relying on echo location, and sometimes it’s a momentary lapse in concentration by a 3rd party. The latter is particularly a regular occurrence when you’re a child, guided by friends in primary school. I distinctly remember a game of Rounders, aged about 10 when, hurtling at full speed down a field I discovered that somebody had, without having had the courtesy to mention it to me, erected a rather large shed directly in my path. How they did so within such a short space of time remains a mystery, the only logical explanation being that my guide must have somehow veered off course. You’ll meet many people who walk into sheds; you’ll meet very few who take a 200-metre approach run. A loud bang singled my coming to an abrupt halt. Had I introduced my face to that shed with any more enthusiasm, a skilled artist could have painted an accurate portrait of me from the imprint. I somehow got away with a minor bump and no broken bones.

To this day I have yet to break a bone, though I’ve had a few troublesome sprains, pulled a few muscles and dislodged a tooth or two. That particular incident was a few months later during the summer months when I connected with a fellow footballer during a particularly lively lunch break match. The impact of two fast runners of roughly the same height is rather stunning to say the least and resulted in a trip to the densest with the added benefit of an afternoon off. If memory serves I didn’t lose the teeth, though a small filling did follow in due course that was almost certainly related to my gnashers having been slightly rearranged.

Bowling isn’t a particularly dangerous sport; though one would presume any possible accidents would be reserved for the lanes. In my case, multiple games were played without a hitch, and the damage was in fact done when it came time to leave. I was swapping the provided shoes for my usual trainers and misjudged the distance between me and a countertop in front. The bridge of my nose connected with the edge of the top, splitting it open and causing a streaming flow of blood, though oddly no pain. Several hours spent in the local A&E followed until I was glued back together, with the utmost care required for a week or so thereafter so as not to split the wound open once more.

I have never burnt myself on an oven despite never using an oven glove, preferring the more convenient t towel or sleeve. I neither own nor use any adapted kitchen appliances or specialist aids, yet I’ve never sustained so much as a burn from boiling water. Sharp knives, power tools and the dangerous voltages in electronics have never caused me injury. When you have a visual impairment you do have a natural tendency to be more careful, but it’s subconscious. Perhaps I’m in the minority but I can’t remember the last time I suffered a ‘common’ injury, besides the occasional repetitive strain injury caused by physical exertion without proper preparation.

The jokes are hilarious

I once knew a guy who longed for a career in stand up comedy. The problem was he was wheelchair bound. Seriously, having a disability offers endless possibilities for good humour, providing you aren’t easily offended. Ever wondered how to spot a blind guy in a nudist colony? It’s not hard. That cheese grater you bought your blind friend for Christmas was the most violent book he’s ever read. Why don’t blind people skydive? Because it scares the hell out of the dog. You’ve probably never heard of the disabled Steps tribute band called Ramps. They faced a constant up-hill struggle and never made it; a real tragedy, but they were never ones for sorrow. And the next time you invite your blind friend to dinner, do consider that they may well have a sea food allergy.

And then there’s the blind pilot classic. Passengers are on a plane when two men walk down the aisle, one with a white cane and the other with a guide dog. They proceed towards the cockpit, the passengers thinking this must be some sort of joke played by the airline. As the plane begins to taxi however their panic rises until a second before take off they scream as one. In the cockpit, the blind pilot turns to his copilot and says “Thank god, one day they won’t scream and we won’t know when to take off”.

Add a little wordplay into the mix and an every-day situation becomes far more comic. A woman is in the shower when she hears a knock at the door. “Who is it?” She asks. “Blind man”, comes the reply. Thinking it can’t do any harm she exits the shower and, naked, opens the door, to be met by a sheepish male reddening further by the second. “Um, where do you want the blinds?”

Word play is fun, though don’t take words literally when they’re used in a figurative context. We ‘watch’ movies, ‘saw’ that popular TV series, and ‘look’ at things, and being pulled up on every use of such a figure of speech is frankly pretty irritating. We may resort to this particular method of humour when we’ve exhausted our repertoire of dad jokes, but it’s rarely funny. Roll your eyes, throw in a grown for good measure and pretend you didn’t see (ha ha) it coming.

Getting a job is tough. A blind guy goes into a wood factory and asks for a job and is questioned on the grounds of his disability. “I can tell any piece of wood by its smell”, he assures the manager. “If you can identify 3 pieces of wood, I’ll give you a job” he replies. The blind man agrees and the first piece of wood is placed before him on a table. “That’s a piece of Indian rosewood, 3 metres long and half a metre wide” he says after a short sniff. Impressed, the manager finds a second piece of wood. “This is a piece of fine English Oak” identifies the blind man after a long inhale. Amazed, but not to be outdone, the manager retreats to his office and asks the secretary to strip naked and lay on her front on the table. She does, and the blind guy takes a sniff and looks confused. “Could you turn it over?” He asks, to which the secretary does and the blind guy inhales once more. “Ahhhhh, I know. That’s the shithouse door from a tuna boat”.

Mock your own misfortune

Misfortune can crop up when you least expect it. Getting into a car for example and misjudging the roof height is guaranteed to lose you several braincells and improve your day with a minor headache, with a bit of red-faced embarrassment and awkward laughter at your expense thrown into the mix. It can happen to anyone; but somehow it seems funnier when a blind individual does it. Ever knocked over a shop display? I’ve not done it personally though I’ve certainly walked into a few in my time. Buying a box of johnnies is, so I’m told, awkward for everybody involved and usually leaves you with a box a couple of ties too large. That, my blind brethren, is the beauty of Amazon.

Thankfully I have excellent spacial awareness, and an acute subconscious which enables me to tell when a person has left the room, or to distinguish between people without them needing to make a sound. Not everyone is so fortunate. Tails of conversations with empty rooms, or worse with the wrong party are common. A VI friend with very limited central vision once strolled confidently up to a friendly looking face in a shop to ask for directions, only to discover mid question that their new friend was in fact a mannequin. Blushing furiously and leaving the shop as hastily as possible, she walked full force into the closed glass doors, failing to spot the framework beyond the edges of her vision. Embarrassing? Most definitely. Funny? absolutely.

Awkward is giving someone a hug when they were reaching for a handshake or vice versa. Even more awkward is reaching with the wrong hand, or realising far too late that you’ve left them hand hanging in the air because you simply weren’t paying attention. I was once a fairly competent swimmer, but a pool is far from an ideal environment for a blind person; particularly one who relies on echo location. The top of my head has connected with several pool sides in its time after misjudging the length or width and performing a particularly vigorous stroke.

I’m thankful that my eyes are intact, and despite requiring copious amounts of Optrex to keep them in good health they are pretty low maintenance. I’d rather they worked, but still. I once knew a blind guy who had a glass eye which could be removed at will. I rode a school bus with him for many years and during what was by far one of the most memorable rides, he produces a small box and suggests the travel assistant look inside. She opens the lid to be greeted by the intense stare of an unmoving eye, gazing at her from within in fantastically freaky fashion. The reaction was priceless, and I couldn’t help but admire him for turning his disadvantage into some excellent practical comedy.

Pack up your troubles

So the song goes, ‘Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag and smile, smile, smile’. Seriously, as a disabled person you will face discrimination, experience incompetence and cope with condescension. It shouldn’t be the case, but it is; and while the tides are slowly turning in our favour we still have a long way to go. You can choose to let it affect you, or you can put on a brave face, put on your happy hat and smile. When someone discriminates against you, remember that you are better than them and with determination and hard work will ultimately be more successful. The next time you’re spoken to in a loud, slow voice, and you’ve grown weary of explaining that you are in fact not a nugget short of a happy meal, consider responding in the same manner with some exaggerated gesticulations.

Developing the ability to turn the unfunny into the uproarious really does make life so much easier and can turn an often distressing situation into one of good-humoured hilarity. Disability is a right pain in the posterior, but there’s no reason it can’t provide a great laugh even if it is at your own expense.