"Mom, what's wrong with her?" a young girl asked her mom as I walked into the hair salon to tell the stylist I had arrived for my appointment. Taking my seat in the waiting room, the girl's fascination with seeing someone "different" continued. "Mom, why does she walk like that?" The mother kindly answered the daughter's questions to help her understand and I smiled politely in return offering a "That's right – I'm just like you but I use crutches to help me walk," answer in return, hoping that was the end of the conversation.
The mother, however, continued encouraging her child to ask me questions about myself, the car I drive, how old I was, where I lived, why I was getting my hair cut, and a myriad of other questions. It got to the point that other people in the waiting room were becoming uncomfortable, looking with disbelief at the mother.
I'm sure many other people with disabilities have faced similar situations when out in public, when we are confronted with the "What's wrong with him/her" question. We are often put in situations where we are expected to explain who we are, what we need, what we are doing, or what our disability is to strangers weekly, if not daily.
Sometimes we want to go out in public, buy groceries, get our mail, run errands, and get our hair cut without having to offer explanations to everyone around us and combat the notion that there is something wrong with us.
It's an important parental responsibility to help children learn and grow by embracing teachable moments, like the one with the child in the hair salon. While children often ask innocent questions when observing the world around them, it should not be the disabled person's responsibility to teach children how to behave in public, and what is appropriate to ask a stranger.
Parents: please help your children learn by exposing them to differences. The more experiences children have and different types of people they meet will help them learn that there is nothing wrong with being different. Differences are in fact what make life interesting, and bring our communities together.
How do you handle public situations or answer curious questions from people in public?