Guest Post: A Child's Eye View of Disability

29 September 2009
I am so pleased to bring you today's guest post!

Gary Presley is the author of numerous essays on disability, among other subjects. His memoir Seven Wheelchairs: A Life beyond Polio was published last year by The University of Iowa Press. Reach him at

He is one of the nicest men I've ever "met" in the blogging world. Thanks so much Gary for sharing this great article with us!

A Child's Eye View of Disability

Most parents have blushed when a child does or says something inappropriate in public. And if there's a person with a visible physical disability involved, the parent might want to run the other way.

All that's simply kids being kids, of course, but when disability is involved, it provides a parent a chance to help a child to grow in awareness of the real world.

What should you do if your child asks what you perceive as inappropriate questions?

One thing I've learned after 50 years riding through life is that children are perfectly able to handle the concept of physical disability, are less ready to respond with prejudice, and more willing to accept the reality that people with disabilities can live happy lives.

* That means you should accept the questions. And then let the person with the disability respond.
* Allow an open discussion. Children instinctively know when adults are evasive.
* Be patient. The fact that people can live full lives with a disability can't be explained in one or two sentences.
* Listen as your child responds. Don't judge. Don't criticize.
* Most of all encourage your child to see the person rather than the disability. It's one more step in your quest to have your child learn to respect everyone's value.
* Stress the positive aspects of assistive devices like wheelchairs, braces, or hearing aids. For example, remind your child no one is "confined" to a wheelchair. A wheelchair is not a prison. A wheelchair is mechanical liberation from the effects of a disability.
* Remind your child that wheelchairs and other aids are not toys. Many of the modern technical devices are sophisticated and expensive. And they are vitally important to the life of the person your child is meeting.

Long ago, I saw a little girl, perhaps five years old, standing at a shop door as I moved down the mall concourse in my power wheelchair.

"Look!" she said, tugging on the arm of her younger brother. "It's magic!"

Her remark made me smile, but it also reminded me that, unless a child has a person with a disability in her family, she might never deal with the concept of disability on a day-to-day basis.

That's a shame. Children who learn to see people with disabilities as one more citizen in their everyday world may learn lessons in compassion and tolerance, pride and perseverance.

And no magic is required.



Amanda Borenstadt said...

Very good blog post. As a mom of little kids, I found it very helpful. :)

Young Wife said...

What a great post! I think you're right. Knowledge is power. Educating people about illness and disability helps everyone.