Why I think being exposed to poorly people from a young age is important
A bit of a philosophical, chatty, reflective type post from me today…
I’ve been thinking about why the general public often feels the need to stare at me when I’m in my wheelchair vs not when I don’t look visibly disabled. I’ve come to the conclusion it’s mostly due to the fact disabled people aren’t seen as the societal norm, people don’t understand a spectrum of disabilities and people haven’t been ‘exposed’ to disability.
Seeing grown adults mid- conversation staring at me whilst I’m minding my own business really makes me feel uneasy. Are these adults thinking they’re going to ‘catch’ whatever the poor disabled girls got if they come too close? or perhaps I’m going to do something to scare them off if they make eye contact with me instead of just smile like any other normal human being.
Kids inequisitive. I often have little children stare at me when I’m out in my wheelchair & that’s okay. What’s not okay is when their parents are staring too. The parents have chosen not to educate themselves. The kids are trying. If they don’t ask they won’t learn. Most of the time when I actually speak to the child they just want to know about my chair, how fast it goes and when they can have a turn. I’ve had children ask me why I use my wheelchair. I usually respond with age appropriate responses. Whilst filtering your language for younger children to be able to understand is important, it is. also good to make sure children know the facts- we don’t live in a fantasy land.
If you speak to a child with honesty & as you would an adult. They just say ‘ah okay’. Honestly try it. Try and be more honest with your kids. If a child asks a question that you may normal ignore or be embarrassed by, try answering with an age appropriate factual response.
‘Mummy why does she make funny noises’ – “she has disability which makes her make funny noises when she is excited- similarly to how you might giggle if someone made a silly joke.”
‘How come you get to sit in that- that isn’t fair’- you’re right! But unfortunately because of my disability my legs don’t work as quickly as yours and I want to make sure I can beat you in a race’ – in my experience kids love all things wheelchairs. They can’t wait for their turn.
The thing about children is, they don’t really care about the response so much, they’re just pretty inquisitive. They believe what they’re told. If they’re taught stereotypes that all disabled people are born in wheelchairs, unable to walk and talk or live a miserable life then they will grow up to have a negative outlook on disability. If you show children that disabled people can be just like anybody else and have favourite colours, animals and hobbies and may just sometimes struggle to keep up with some activities due to a disability, it helps create a more understanding child.
Children are more likely to want to play with children with disabilities if they’re made aware of what they can and can’t do and why. Disabled people are fun, loving, funny and energetic too. We all have our own personalities just like a non- disabled person does.
I’ve been ‘exposed’ to disability since I was born & I think it’s really shaped who I am. As much as it sucks we have had a history of rubbish health in my family, it’s taught me to understand and be more empathetic but it’s also been my ‘normal’.
I have memories of saying to people ‘yes she’s disabled, no she doesn’t ‘look it’ but she is’ My mum was my first experience of invisible disability. She didn’t use any mobility aids & was pretty much superwoman despite having a chronically broken spine and debilitating pain.
As a child when we would visit my Nanny who had severe MS- Multiple Sclerosis, the type that was degenerative. We would have hours of fun playing with her ‘electronic house’ (she had accessible features and adaptations, hoists, remote door opening etc.) It was normal to us. We knew she was poorly & when we saw her as it wasn’t very often, we knew she’d probably be more poorly than last time, but she was always our Nanny.
Being ‘exposed’ didn’t really cross my mind- we just knew her as our Nanny! She had a cool car (Motability car) and we used to play with her hoist and powerchair (which in hindsight was a bit mean messing with all the settings and leaving her hanging in but but she let us and ‘enjoyed it’ none the less).
I remember visiting the beach with my Nanny & her sat in her wheelchair on the promenade while we sat as close as we could on the sand. We knew Nanny couldn’t come on the beach with us because her wheelchair would get stuck in the sand. Accessibility issues were ingrained in my brain from a young age subconsciously, it wasn’t till I became a part- time wheelchair user myself when I realised the extent of what people go through. How often do you see someone sat outside a shop on their mobility scooter or waiting in their wheelchair but thought nothing of it? Hate to break it to you but this is because a place is inaccessible and these disabled people cannot physically cannot get in!!
People seem to have a one set mindset when it comes to disability. Kids can be become scared of those with illness if they aren’t educated. Raise your children to help become mini advocates for us!
Post covid- I’d really love to do some more work with kids on understanding disabilities! Just a thought.
We’ll be past covid soon. Fingers crossed!