Don’t Stare, Be Kind Instead

09 Apr
This year I have added an additional focus on kindness to The Blogunteer.  Recent posts included Habits of Kindness, Random Acts of Kindness, and Storytellers for Good.
Today’s post is a guest post from Mindy Rhiger.  Mindy is a librarian and book reviewer.  She blogs about books and family life at Proper Noun Blog.  
It’s okay to be curious.
That is probably the most important thing I want to tell people.  The key is how you express your curiosity.
I wear a prosthetic arm.  It isn’t something most people see everyday, and I completely understand that people–especially kids–are curious about it.  I am happy to answer questions people might have about my arm.  I just have a few tips for people (and parents) who don’t quite know what to do or say when they meet someone physically different.
General Tips:
  • Try not to stare. A second glance is completely normal, but if you want more information than you can get in a glance or two, it might be a good idea to say hello. :)
  • It’s okay to ask questions, but look for cues.  I will often smile or make eye contact if I notice someone who looks curious to let them know that I’m friendly and willing to talk.   If you don’t see “friendly cues” from someone with a physical difference, it might be a good idea not to approach them with questions.
  • Keep offers to help reasonable, and remember they probably aren’t necessary.  If someone doesn’t look like they are struggling, they probably don’t need help.
  • Ask before you touch someone’s assistive device, including wheelchairs, prosthetics, or eye glasses.
  • Don’t make assumptions about a person’s disability.  For example, most people assume I lost my arm in an accident, but that isn’t true.  Try to ask open questions rather than specific (e.g. “What happened to your arm?” is better than “How did you lose your arm?”)
  • Be discreet.  Not everyone likes to be the center of attention, especially when talking about themselves.  It might be a good idea to ask your questions privately or in a small group.
Tips for parents:
  • Talk about people with physical differences before the issue comes up.  You might share books from my bibliography or watch the episode of the PBS Kids show Maya & Miguel where they meet their friend Andy, who has one arm like me.
  • Allow kids to ask questions directly of the person with the disability if possible.  Look for signals to see if they seem willing to be approached.
  • If your child does ask a question about someone’s disability, let the person answer.  I find that most people with disabilities understand kids’ curiosity and are quite willing to show them that they are not as different as they might appear.
  • You might make a connection to something your kids know when you talk about physical differences.  I often compare myself to Nemo, who had a “lucky fin.”
  • Don’t be too hard on kids if they do or say something rude.  For most kids–and some adults–it’s a new experience to meet someone with a particular physical difference.
  • Be prepared for repetition.  Younger children (preschoolers, in particular) are likely to ask the same questions about my arm the first several times we meet.  It might feel a bit embarrassing to have them bring it up over and over again, but it’s normal, and it will sink in eventually.
I completely understand curiosity about me–about how my arm works or how I do things one-handed–and I’ll gladly answer questions rather than leave people wondering.  Next time you happen to meet someone who is different, approach them with kindness, and you just might find that they will answer all your questions.
If you are curious about Mindy’s prosthetic arm, check out her Fake Arm 101 page for answers to frequently asked questions.

Posted by on April 9, 2012 in Guest Post


Tags: , , ,

12 responses to “Don’t Stare, Be Kind Instead

  1. Christine @ Mama Papa Barn

    April 9, 2012 at 9:06 pm

  2. Melanie (@MelanieFoust)

    April 10, 2012 at 12:20 am

    Thank you for this post- it’s so helpful. I know at times my curiousity wars with not knowing whether or not questions are appropriate.

    I stumbled this post through Stumble Tumble Tuesday! My post is here.

  3. Wayne

    April 10, 2012 at 7:23 am

    I am happy to ‘thumbs up stumbled’ this most interesting post.

  4. blogunteer

    April 10, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    When my son was just under 1 year old, he wore a helmet to correct the flat spot on the back of his head. I remember receiving many stares and whispers from others when we were out and about. The people who did approach us were parents who had also had a child who wore a helmet – they shared kind words such as how well it worked for them or happy they were with the outcome. I can only imagine what it would be like to receive those looks all the time. Thank you again for sharing your tips and your “fake arm 101” post Mindy!

  5. Nani

    April 12, 2012 at 9:48 am

    Found this post through Stumble Tumble (Though I don’t have a post this week). I have a blog with FAQ for MS. I’m 46, told I look young for 46 and walk slowly with a walker. I get lots of stares. I have a friend with MS who has been asked if she was drinking at work because of balance problems. I really do wish people would just ask rather than assume.

    Thanks so much for this post!!

    • blogunteer

      April 12, 2012 at 9:51 am

      Nani – Thank you for sharing your story!

  6. Deanna

    April 13, 2012 at 10:54 am

    Great advice here! I try to talk to my kids about people with disabilities and not to stare or be rude. My biggest problem is that my kids have big mouths and will tell me loudly, “that woman has a fake arm!”.. they are not doing it to be rude or mean, they are just stating a fact, but I still try to teach them to be sensitive to anyone who is different.

  7. moneysavingsecrets

    May 1, 2012 at 9:47 am

    What a great post. I kinda know the feeling, but mine is having a mentally ill child. We get tons of stares when my sons having an episode and I know the feeling of hearing them talk about my son instead of asking me questions. A lot of kids are not allowed to play with him because the parents just think hes a bad kid :( Then they glare at us because we most be horrible parents to have such a bad kid, if only they knew. Because of that, my kids are great when it comes to anyone who is a bit different. They always make them feel welcomed because they know what its feels like to be judged.
    New follower from CCB!


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