The Humanist Dilemma: How Do You Handle a Disabled Person Who’s Rude?

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Whose Rights Are Right? This is kind of an etiquette question, but I can’t stop thinking about it. Recently I was with a group of four people, one of whom is an elderly gentleman who uses a walker with great difficulty. We went into a lovely restaurant at exactly the time brunch was ending. We were informed they were closing because they would be setting up for a wedding later that day. They agreed to seat us after we assured them we understood the circumstances.

When we were nearly finished with our meal, a man came over and began, “I hate to bother you…” Before he could get out another word, one of our group (I’ll call him the self-appointed spokesperson) said, “But you’re going to anyhow.” The man then explained, very nicely, that he was the photographer for the wedding and he was wondering if we might possibly move to a nearby table so he could set up the shots he needed (our table was in line with the gorgeous view). The spokesperson told him, not very nicely, that it was too difficult for the older man to move and that we would stay where we were and finish our meal. The photographer and the restaurant manager immediately apologized and told us to take our time.

Although I essentially agreed with the spokesperson, I would have approached it without all the attitude, and I would—and did, along with another person in our group—make an effort to finish up quickly and leave. But the spokesperson and the elderly man refused to budge when we left. They sat that the table longer, just for spite.

Later the two of them were regaling friends with the tale of the incident, portraying the photographer and manager as incredibly rude and clueless, and themselves as righteously putting them in their place. I was thinking of interjecting but decided there was nothing to be gained by contradicting them and sticking up for the restaurant, although I thought they were undeservedly slandered.

What do you think?

—Party to the Nasty Party


Dear Party,

It sounds as though in the future this restaurant should refuse to seat people who show up at the last minute before an event, rather than hope that late diners fully informed of the time constraints will be cooperative.

I assume your party received prompt service. Perhaps the elderly man has had a bad time with people being inconsiderate of his needs, so he feels no obligation to be considerate of other people’s needs. But, as you noted, your spokesperson could have politely explained that you were almost finished and that it would be very difficult to move to another table. He could have suggested that the photographer work around them for just a few more minutes. There was no call for rudeness–just assertiveness.

The photographer was simply trying to do his job, and he didn’t even suggest you leave—only that you relocate (not realizing how difficult that would be). As soon as he understood the difficulty, he and the manager graciously apologized. But their apologies were not graciously accepted.

Some people feel good making others feel bad. People with disabilities often get unsympathetic treatment from those who are oblivious or ignorant of their special needs, and that might make them snap at the slightest perceived disrespect. I suppose you could have, or still could, say something in defense of the photographer and manager, who were quite professional: deferential, respectful, and accommodating. One option may be to post a positive review of your experience online. Although that might help public relations for the restaurant, I doubt it would make a dent in your companions’ persecution complexes. Their reaction (especially refusing to leave the table after the meal was over, just to be nasty!) was gratuitously hostile, serving no purpose—except, as noted, to teach the restaurant to be stricter about refusing late diners. Next time, last-minute parties will probably be turned away rather than seated with a request to dine and dash. I doubt that’s the mission your party was hoping to accomplish.