When I asked people what they wanted to hear about through this blog restart, I had a few people mention that they were curious about what to tell their kids (i.e. how to raise their kids to not be assholes). First of all – kudos to you for actually caring…addressing the issue at all is the first step in raising cool kids! I also love this because there are so many misconceptions about what is and isn’t acceptable to say to a person with a visible disability. I think before I dig into this there are two important things to note:
- I am not all-knowing, and I don’t speak on behalf of everyone with a disability. What I think is acceptable may not be what other people in wheelchairs think is. Use common sense, and if someone is in the middle of a conversation that might not be a good time to send your kid over to ask a question!
- What is acceptable from children varies by age. If I see a 3 year old gaping at me I’m much more likely to be friendly – if there’s a 14 year old staring at me slack jaw he will definitely be on the receiving end of my laser eyes.
One thing my parents and I have always commented on is how quick people are to tell their children not to ask questions. Please don’t do this! I know I have a disability and your child won’t be drawing attention to anything I’m not already aware of. One of the best things about kids is how open they are to learning new things. I would much rather explain to a 4 year old that I have spinal muscular atrophy and what that means than have a 35 year old stop me in the hallway to tell me his 2nd cousin has spina bifida as if that somehow makes us friends. Encourage your kids to ask questions and you’ll see that most people are happy to answer and educate!
Of equal importance – please don’t give your children a reason to fear someone in a wheelchair. When I go by don’t say “watch out – she’ll run you over!” I have been using an electric wheelchair for 20 years…if I run you over it is intentional because you say stupid shit like that. There is a very good chance your child will have interactions and maybe even relationships with people with disabilities, and they should feel comfortable with “us”, not afraid for their toes.
Lastly, teach your children that a person’s wheelchair is a part of them. Discourage them from touching a stranger’s joystick/buttons/wheels (good advice for most motor vehicles, really). Not only could that be potentially dangerous, it is also an extension of ourselves. Don’t let your kids grow up to be the people who use the wheelchairs of people they just met as coat racks. Seriously, it’s not cool.
Basically, and I know this is a foreign concept, but treat people with disabilities as people! Age appropriate questions and curiosity are more than welcome. I’m hopeful that by removing the stigma around asking persons with disabilities for more information and by creating an open dialogue, the next generation of people will be more inclusive!