This is an article that I wrote and submitted to a site called The Mighty. It’s an amazing website that features stories about those with disabilities, and it shines a positive light on disabilities.
I wrote this story because I want to raise awareness of disabilities in society, and there are things that I think that society needs to know.
This is my list. Is there anything that anyone would add?
As someone with a visible difference, I wish I could say society is nonjudgmental and unprejudiced. But alas, I cannot. For the most part, I don’t have trouble when I go out in public. Maybe I’ve just grown to be used to it, but I don’t notice a lot of staring or pointing. Sometimes people (mostly kids) do a double take, but I haven’t experienced much other than that.
Of course, there are the incidents that stick out in my mind. One time, a random person came up to me at the mall and asked if there was something wrong with me and why I looked this way. There was another time when I working at a retail store, and a kid said, “I have no idea what she’s saying.” Lastly, one of my friends with Moebius syndrome called a kid “really ugly” on Facebook. These things are not OK.
So here’s what I want society to know about anyone with any kind of difference:
1. We know when you’re pointing at us or making comments about us.
We can see you doing double takes. It makes us feel uncomfortable, and it draws attention to what we generally don’t want to draw attention to: our difference. If you really need to know why I look the way I do, please ask. I like to educate people about Moebius syndrome. I even wear a Moebius syndrome bracelet.
2. Even if you’re trying to be helpful, you could be drawing attention to us, which can be embarrassing.
During my first semester of college, one of my instructors printed out the slides he was going to show the class for me and only me. At the beginning of class, he came right over to my desk in front of everyone (who I didn’t know well at the time) and gave me a huge stack of printed out slides. They were printed in a huge font. He was definitely trying to be helpful, and I appreciated that. But it was so humiliating! I wish he just would’ve asked me beforehand if I needed visual accommodation, which I didn’t.
3. Don’t assume we need any help, especially if we haven’t asked for it.
This kind of goes hand in hand with my previous point. Again, if we’re singled out in front of others, it can be quite humiliating. Please ask us in private if we require any kind of help. Also, please don’t assume that just because we look different, you have to talk slower and louder to us. Just because we might look a little different doesn’t always mean we have cognitive disabilities as well.
4. If your kids have questions about our appearance, don’t just shush them to avoid embarrassing us.
If they say something inappropriate within earshot, tell them it’s not nice to say things like that. Then explain why you shouldn’t judge people based on their differences. If you don’t explain to kids that some people are different, they won’t learn. Teach them to be tolerant and compassionate.
5. There is so much more to a person than their appearance.
We are so much more than what we look like. We all have dreams, goals, families and friends. We all seek tolerance and acceptance. We’re all just trying to find our place in this world like everyone else. Judging someone by their looks is like judging a book by its cover. The cover may not be the most beautiful or extravagant, but if you pass it up because of that, you might miss out on a really amazing book. People are like that, too. You can’t tell who someone is just by looking at them. Give everyone a fair chance.
Don’t be afraid to talk to someone who is a little different from you. Even if it’s just saying hello, it can make someone’s day to know you saw them just as another human being, not as someone different.