Icebreaker: Disability and Humour

Lilley (her long blonde hair fairly straight this time) wears a green and black fitted dress and stands between two men who appear to be in their early thirties. One of them has wavy dark brown hair down to his collar, and the other has shorter straight sleek black hair. The three stand with their arms around each other's shoulders and a tree is visible behind them.

All of my articles so far have been so serious! So let’s lighten the mood, shall we?

Today I would like to talk about disability and humour, and I’m going to start by telling a story from my teenage years.

One day, my two best friends and I were wandering the mall in the town in which we all went to school. There’s an Afrikaans expression that loosely translates to: “In the land of the blind, One-Eye is king.” It’s a metaphor, but we like to apply the expression in a more literal sense to our situation in which we have varying degrees of sight, usually meaning that the most sighted person will walk in front if we don’t all have canes or guide dogs. By this logic, I was leading the procession, being the one with the most sight out of the three of us. The little bit of sight that I had was by no means good or even passable, so the three of us walking in a row (one behind the other holding onto each other’s elbows) were quite a menace. Incidentally, we jokingly call this a mole train.

My two friends were eager to buy biltong (a South African snack which is basically raw meat that is dried, salted and spiced) and I remembered that the biltong store had vertical lights in the window. So off we went in search of a window with vertical lights, barrelling forth, my cane tapping and people scattering. As another fun one-liner we like to use goes: “When the blind leadeth the blind…, get out of the way.”

Eventually, after walking through the entire mall whilst squinting at the windows we passed, I discovered a window that I thought might just be the one! So we found the door, entered, and were surprised not to be greeted with the smell of salty spiced meat, but by a very clean, clinical scent. This obviously wasn’t the biltong shop, but we decided to go up to the counter anyway to ask where we were and if the person behind the counter could give us directions to the right place.

“Good morning,” said I, “Please could you tell us where we are?”

The answer sent us into fits of mirth. “Good morning,” said the woman behind the counter, “You’re at the optometrists. Can we help you?”

“I think we’re a little beyond help,” one of my cronies responded, prompting more laughter from my other friend and me.

The point of this story (aside from hopefully making you smile) is that many people with disabilities appreciate humour, even if it is in relation to their disabilities. Sometimes we even appreciate fairly dark (no pun intended) humour, but of course, disabled individuals differ, so I don’t want to make a generalisation. For example, individuals with chronic pain, or people with certain mental illnesses might not appreciate your well-meant joke. There’s also a fine line between joking and mocking.

I (and most of my disabled friends and acquaintances) also don’t mind nondisabled people making jokes about disability. However, context matters. It’s also important to note that we have gone through life hearing certain jokes over and over again, so just realise that you aren’t being super clever and original when you respond to a blind person saying something like “see you tomorrow” with “no you won’t”. It isn’t necessarily offensive (although again I’m speaking for myself here) but please also don’t be offended if you get an eyeroll in response instead of a laugh.

At this point, I would like to emphasise again that disabled people differ. I’m writing from the perspective of a blind person, and I’m talking about “blind jokes” because that is what I know best. I’m also speaking from the perspective of someone who generally loves a bit of comedy, even if it is at my expense. How dull would living be if we couldn’t laugh at ourselves, and at the ridiculousness of life, right? My point is that we should all just be mindful of the differences that exist, and maybe ask your new disabled friend if they mind the occasional joke before you freely joke with them.

I’ll end off with a joke. This one I can’t take credit for, but here it is anyway: A blind man walked into a bar……… And a table, and a chair…