Saturday, October 8, 2011

Two Ways of Asking

An acquaintance with a disability said she was the object of the question only boors ask: What's wrong with you?

Anyone with a visible disability has heard that query. After fifty years, I've grown used to it. In fact, I generally try to have a little fun with it. Well, it all begin during the prison break ... 

Mostly, I don't reply, or say something like, I'm fine. How are you?

Another friend, a writer, a mother of youngsters, had asked me about the same time how to handle a child who points and asks about a person with an obvious disability. Kids do that, and I think most people who are the object of such questions understand it is innocent curiosity about something new in their child-world.

If I hear a child ask the question, I usually say something to the child before the parent replies. I want the child to understand that a man sits in the wheelchair, a man much like an uncle or a grandfather.

Most parents are going to blush or feel nervous. That's human nature. But what else should a parent do? 

First, remember that children are perfectly able to handle the concept of physical disability, are less ready to respond with prejudice, and more willing to accept the reality that people with disabilities are busy living their own lives. 

Accept the questions. And, if possible, let the person with the disability respond.

Allow an open discussion. Children instinctively know when adults are evasive.

Be patient. The fact that people can live full lives with a disability can't be explained in one or two sentences.

Listen as your child responds. Don't judge. Don't criticize.

Encourage your child to see the person rather than the disability. It's one more step in your quest to have your child learn to respect every other person's value.

Stress the positive aspects of assistive devices like wheelchairs, braces, or hearing aids. For example, remind your child no one is "confined" to a wheelchair. A wheelchair is not a prison. A wheelchair is mechanical liberation from the effects of a disability.

And, please, stay away from expressions of pity. Or for that matter, do not label the person as courageous. 

The best thing to be done is to help your child understand disability, visible or not, is simply one more point in the spectrum of normality.

1 comment:

Amanda Borenstadt said...

Good post. It's super uncomfortable to have your kid point out somebody (because of a disability or otherwise). My kids have known people in wheelchairs since they were babies, so that hasn't been an issue, but they've pointed out other people.

I can't imagine asking somebody what was wrong with them. Hmm, maybe that person's disability was cronic rudeness. ;)