When I’m out I get noticed. I would like to think people are looking at me because I’m so beautiful and charismatic but then it would have happened to me more before my accident…weird! I’ve concluded it must be the wheelchair. I’ve come to realize that people generally stare because they are curious…but it doesn’t really make it any easier to be on the receiving end. For most people, seeing someone living with a disability is out of their ‘range of normal’ and they want to somehow fit it in and figure it out. I’ve been asked what the appropriate reactions are to have when someone sees a person with a disability. All I can attest to is what I think is appropriate and I think that is different for adults and for children. This post will tell you what I think adults should do…I will explore the topic of the ever-curious child in another post.
The most obvious thing that any adult should do when they see someone with a disability is ask them a million questions including why it is that they are in their current situation…just checking to see that your sarcasm is on point today as it is usually important when reading my stuff. Clearly, the more appropriate approach is to simply move on with your day. If you want more information on disabilities and how people live with them then do your homework…follow blogs (good start is mine) or hit up a specialized website like Spinal Cord Injury BC (SCI-BC). Staring at someone for 30 seconds or throughout a meal at a restaurant will not give you insight. It will, however, make the person you are staring at feel uncomfortable. A lot of people with disabilities are open books (like me) but a lot of people think that their life is not your business (fair enough). So while curiosity is sometimes hard to stifle, just find a way to do so. And please don’t offer to help. When I need help, I ask…usually someone tall, dark and handsome (and if they aren’t around, I wait). Finally, unless you see someone actually doing something of great importance, do not tell them they are inspiring or any synonym of incredible. If they are out getting groceries, it’s because they need groceries (or they are pretending they need groceries in an effort to get out of the house and leave their children with their partner…same thing). There are lots of people doing great things in this broken world, but those of us getting errands done are just as desperate to get them over with as the next person.
Something to always keep in mind when seeing someone with a disability, is that at some point in their lifetime they have come up against something incredibly difficult that has left them with a very obvious reminder for all to see. Whether it’s something life-long that they have had to come to terms with or something sudden that left them shocked and broken, they have probably gone through hell. Not everyone can go through hell and talk about it – so best to let them be. However after saying all of that, if you were to see me personally out in public then feel free to come and say hello. I appreciate conversation over blank, curious, pitiful or confused stares – no contest!