I grew up in the late 1960s and early 70s, and my parents were of the generation where you did not discuss differences or disabilities. Any kind of family issues were kept within our small family. You just did not talk about “those things.”
I can remember a few times when, as a child, I noticed someone using a wheelchair. I asked my mom about it and was told to “hush and do not stare!” Of course, I was not trying to be rude; I was just curious about this other form of mobility.
Fast forward 40 years and you would think in this day and age that we would not have such issues. People are not afraid to talk about things, and acceptance is being taught in all the schools. The media portrays real people who have disabilities and we even have politically correct, people-first language. For a parent who has a child with Cerebral Palsy and uses a wheelchair, I can tell you firsthand that things have not changed as much as you think they have.
My family loves to go out into the community to eat. Dining out at a restaurant is one of our favorite family outings. My family consists of five people: me, my husband, and our three children. Our daughter has a visible disability and uses a wheelchair for mobility. Sometimes, but not always, people stare, gawk, and say rude things. Experiencing this behavior toward your child can be very hard for some people, and they may react with anger or sadness. While this is what I originally wanted to do, I fought through my emotions and decided to take these awkward opportunities and turn them into teaching moments.
I might ask the adult who is staring if they have any questions about my daughter and her disability. Sometimes that question alone will get the person to stop staring and move on. Sometime a person is genuinely curious and will ask questions. This is when I can educate them on disabilities in general.
If talking about it is hard or uncomfortable for you, make up some cards that explain the disability and what it is like to be stared at. When people are staring, or being “rude,” you can hand them the card. There will always be someone who has no idea and giving them the card might even be hurtful, but I feel it is my job to protect my child and educate and advocate when I can.
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