This year I have added an additional focus on kindness to The Blogunteer. Recent posts included Habits of Kindness, Random Acts of Kindness, and Storytellers for Good.
Today’s post is a guest post from Mindy Rhiger. Mindy is a librarian and book reviewer. She blogs about books and family life at Proper Noun Blog.
It’s okay to be curious.
That is probably the most important thing I want to tell people. The key is how you express your curiosity.
I wear a prosthetic arm. It isn’t something most people see everyday, and I completely understand that people–especially kids–are curious about it. I am happy to answer questions people might have about my arm. I just have a few tips for people (and parents) who don’t quite know what to do or say when they meet someone physically different.
- Try not to stare. A second glance is completely normal, but if you want more information than you can get in a glance or two, it might be a good idea to say hello. :)
- It’s okay to ask questions, but look for cues. I will often smile or make eye contact if I notice someone who looks curious to let them know that I’m friendly and willing to talk. If you don’t see “friendly cues” from someone with a physical difference, it might be a good idea not to approach them with questions.
- Keep offers to help reasonable, and remember they probably aren’t necessary. If someone doesn’t look like they are struggling, they probably don’t need help.
- Ask before you touch someone’s assistive device, including wheelchairs, prosthetics, or eye glasses.
- Don’t make assumptions about a person’s disability. For example, most people assume I lost my arm in an accident, but that isn’t true. Try to ask open questions rather than specific (e.g. “What happened to your arm?” is better than “How did you lose your arm?”)
- Be discreet. Not everyone likes to be the center of attention, especially when talking about themselves. It might be a good idea to ask your questions privately or in a small group.
Tips for parents:
- Talk about people with physical differences before the issue comes up. You might share books from my bibliography or watch the episode of the PBS Kids show Maya & Miguel where they meet their friend Andy, who has one arm like me.
- Allow kids to ask questions directly of the person with the disability if possible. Look for signals to see if they seem willing to be approached.
- If your child does ask a question about someone’s disability, let the person answer. I find that most people with disabilities understand kids’ curiosity and are quite willing to show them that they are not as different as they might appear.
- You might make a connection to something your kids know when you talk about physical differences. I often compare myself to Nemo, who had a “lucky fin.”
- Don’t be too hard on kids if they do or say something rude. For most kids–and some adults–it’s a new experience to meet someone with a particular physical difference.
- Be prepared for repetition. Younger children (preschoolers, in particular) are likely to ask the same questions about my arm the first several times we meet. It might feel a bit embarrassing to have them bring it up over and over again, but it’s normal, and it will sink in eventually.
I completely understand curiosity about me–about how my arm works or how I do things one-handed–and I’ll gladly answer questions rather than leave people wondering. Next time you happen to meet someone who is different, approach them with kindness, and you just might find that they will answer all your questions.
If you are curious about Mindy’s prosthetic arm, check out her Fake Arm 101 page for answers to frequently asked questions.