In our society, which has made so many strides in accessibility and understanding about various conditions, the question of whether or not it’s acceptable to ask someone about their wheelchair, limp, scars, or whatever, has become more and more fraught. Some people make such a concerted effort not to stare or look overlong at someone with obvious differences that their deliberate not-looking becomes, in itself, highly noticeable and irksome to some people who know very well that their differences attract attention. Some people embrace our confessional culture overly much. Strangers don’t think twice of asking intensely personal questions about someone’s physical condition in the grocery store or bank line. People who have an obvious condition (like me) can be equally annoyed by invasive questions and by insincere attempts not to notice that anything is different. And yet, there are times when I welcome the chance to explain my condition to other people.
The bottom line is that, given that people with disabilities are just as unique as everyone else, there will probably never be “one size fits all” answer to the question of whether or not it’s ever appropriate to ask someone about their condition, and under what circumstances it is acceptable. What is appropriate can change depending on context—who is doing the asking, how they ask, and under what circumstances.