Helping People See Disabilities Differently

More often than not people don’t know how to relate to individuals with disabilities. I’m talking about people in wheelchairs, visually impaired people, people with developmental disabilities, people who are deaf or hard of hearing, people who can’t speak, or people with a cane or walker to name just a few.  My advice is don’t worry about their disability. As a matter of fact, in every one of the descriptions above, if you take away the disability all you are left with…is people. People who want to be treated like anyone else.

My sister Colleen had her first son Lincoln when she was 33.   She wanted to make sure he was comfortable around my wheelchair.   So, whenever we got together she would encourage him to climb up into the chair and he would hug me and try to push the button to toot the horn.  He seemed to enjoy doing this and to this day he has no hesitation around my chair.

A few years later,  Colleen had a daughter Maple Rose.  That was a totally different story.   She was more of a handful and would scream whenever she was near the chair.  It was much more difficult for Colleen since Maple Rose was so strong-willed.  Whenever I would approach Maple,  she would stare at me with a puzzled look on her face.  A few weeks before her first birthday she came to my apartment and was playing, Colleen said its time to go and Maple Rose stood up and walked over to me and hugged my legs without being told to!  In three months, she will be three and is warming up to the wheelchair.

When I go to a store like Wegmans, many people look at me with hesitation or think I’m going to do something that may hurt them or myself when I’m just doing my best to safely navigate the aisles. My biggest upset is when people talk to me like I have a mental/developmental problem.  For the most part, people are kind and just want to do the right thing, like opening-closing doors or making room for the chair.

With adults, some are very nervous and hesitant around me.  Just like kids, once they are more familiar they don’t seem to notice it.  When you encounter someone, please remember people who want to be treated like anyone else.

Mike Theobald is a contributing writer to the ARISE Website and a part-time employee. His stories offer a unique perspective on life in Central New York.