Hello Friends! If you are a child or an adult with a disability or you are a parent of a child/adult with a disability, you are a teacher. Now, we do not get paid to be teachers. It is a title that we naturally absorbed when we were either born with our disability or acquired it at some stage of our lives. For those parents out there, you assumed this title from the moment you learned that your loved one had a disability.
Yes, the world should be more understanding, know what is appropriate and what is not, and we should not have to add this title to our lives. Without us assuming the role of “teacher,” the world will not be educated when it comes to people with disabilities and awareness will not spread as to what is possible in this world for us. We teach by actions, like everyone in this world has the opportunity to do, and we teach through our words…but in a different way.
Constantly, I am fielding the question, “Were you born in a wheelchair?” to which my wife, Pratiksha, holds top honors for the best response for me, “That would have been quite a difficult delivery for his mother!” We use humor because it enhances the learning experience. It also opens the door for further dialogue…and that is what you want with those individuals who really don’t have a clue what living with a disability is all about. Come to think of it, why would most people unless they had a disability themselves or a family member or friend who had a disability?
Unfortunately, most people don’t have a clue and we can either get angry and reject a possible teaching moment or we can dive right in and do our best to connect with our fellow human beings. Trust me when I tell you, it is much more rewarding to be a part of a teaching moment and bring people into our world, if even for just a few minutes. Getting angry and upset by one’s ignorance, lack of knowledge, and lack of experiences is not worth it. Why should we hold others prisoner for not knowing what we know? See it as a teaching moment just like an instructor in a school setting would. You do your best to connect and get through to a person and then you let it go. You have done your part.
How many of you have received long stares when you were somewhere out in public? Probably all of us right? Yes, those stares don’t feel so good, but what do you think is behind those stares? Are they really people who know you or know anything about you? Absolutely not. So then, stop taking it so personally and take the following action.
First of all, if it is really bothering you, ask yourself why. It could be you are not too happy with yourself if someone else’s opinion basically means more to you than your own and can alter you state of being in such a way. Secondly, I dare you to approach someone giving you this stare, but in a nice way. Remove the “What are you looking at?” from your arsenal. Gandhi once said, “An eye for an eye would eventually make the whole world go blind.” Rather, approach them as a teacher if you so choose and ask, “I was just wondering if you had a question for me or if I can help you with something?” Yeah, it sounds weird to do, but aren’t you really getting closer to some answers?
My mother actually told me a long time ago that I should just tell people, including strangers who I have just met, what happened to me and why I am in a wheelchair. “Everyone wants to know,” she would say to me. You know what, she was right! Sometimes I am pretty quick to get into my story, especially when I feel one’s awkwardness being in my company, other times I am not that quick to get into my story.
Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine if you knew nothing about people with disabilities. Wouldn’t you look at someone in a wheelchair, someone who was blind, or maybe even someone who spoke much differently than everyone else who was around? I know I would and I know that I did just that before I was in a wheelchair. It is a new and unusual experience for most people and our initial reaction is not a natural one. It is sometimes a stare, a nervous laugh, or even a uneducated comment. You have the choice to get upset or the choice to set the record straight and give them a dose of reality…a teaching moment! Choose wisely. Enjoy the journey!
Have you taken on the role of a disability educator? Describe one of your teaching moments.