Why you need to stop telling your kids not to stare at disabled people
When you’re in a wheelchair or have a disability that’s apparent, it can feel like you’re a goldfish in a bowl when you go out in public; all eyes are on you. I’ve been conditioned to accept this as my norm because I’ve been experiencing it ever since I was 2 years old and had my little red wheelchair. I’m 25 now, so I’ve had over 20 years experience being a public spectacle, which is why it doesn’t bother me much. However, I’ve noticed a shift in the “ooooh look it’s a disabled person in public” practices when I moved to a big city where’s there’s a lot of diversity, which is comforting.
Even still, the one group of people that’s curiosity about me and my metal throne is always apparent in children. As an adult, I think it’s adorable and always make it a point to wave or smile at the little curious kiddos.
These curious cuties are the future. They’re soaking up everything they see and are learning about all the diversity in the world for the first time. Sometimes, I see parents hindering that learning process by making mistakes like telling their kids not to stare when a disabled person is in the vicinity. Why is this bad? Sure, staring isn’t polite, but they’re curious. They want to learn more. By telling your kids not to stare at disabled people, you’re hindering their ability to learn about a very misunderstood group of people. You’re perpetuating the stigma that disability is bad and shouldn’t be discussed because it’s just “too much” to think about.
The other day I experienced such an amazing thing. I was out walking with my mom one evening, when a family that was visiting from Colorado approached me. The dad stopped me and gave me a hug and started chatting with me. (Yes, we he was a little tipsYy) His nephews where scurrying about the street with their little light up toys they were way too excited about, as 6 year olds are. He stopped them from playing and told the two little boys to give me a hug. I instantly felt slightly awkward because I didn’t know how they would react. I smiled as the little boys looked very nervous, when their dad pushed them verbally to hug me again. The boys did and we instantly became friends. They no longer cared about my disability and insisted on racing me a hundred times as they eagerly showed me their toys. There’s a beauty in acceptance and brining misconceptions out of the dark and brining awareness into the light. By hugging me, something the boys already knew was a standard social interaction exchanged between two people, they knew I wasn’t so different. That simple little interaction changed everything.
I’m not advising you tell your kids to hug every disabled person you see on the street, but don’t scold them for staring. Let them be curious and go up and interact with the person. Most disabled people I know are more than happy to interact with curious kiddos and show them that we’re not so different.
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