When is it okay to ask a disabled person about their disability?

When I was a kid, I would get home from school and watch TVO Kids. That tradition has sort of carried on, to my children. They love the dinosaur shows, Arthur, The Magic School Bus, Finding Stuff Out, The Reading Rangers, and Odd Squad.

I love TVO Kids. I love that they now have a host interview kids with disabilities. I felt inspired to write this post after watching a segment of two little boys discussing their disability with the host, Mark.

During the end of the segment, Mark completes a challenge with the kids and then typically asks them if they mind if it when other people ask questions about their differences.

The older boy nailed it with his answer about how it’s only okay to ask if it’s not going to offend them, and it’s better to ask “when I know them better.”

I couldn’t help but feel an alliance with this child, this child who knows the difference between questions of good intent and questions of cruel intent, because there is a difference. People with disabilities know this difference. We are well versed in reading between the lines and all but feeling the intent of the asker.

Example: the woman who pointed and laughed at my toes. Those “questions” and “assessments” did not come from a good place. They did not get wrapped in empathy and compassion. They were cruel words, careless words.

However, a friend that asks me how I’m doing (in regards to my health), that’s different. That comes from a good place. Even the new friends who are just curious.

I dislike discussing my MHE with strangers, because I don’t feel that every single person who happens to gaze upon my body is entilted to question me on it’s appearance. “Why do you have scars” is about as ridiculous as “why do you have a head”. The scars are a part of my body, they just are. Yes, there’s a reason for them…but just because you saw them, doesn’t mean that I have to tell you about them. That’s a very personal thing for me to tell you.

I prefer it when somebody takes the time to get to know me as a person first. It sucks when people only see you for one thing – your disability. It is so much better when someone makes you feel as if they care about your WHOLE story, not just the parts that make you different from other people.

So…Bravo, TVO Kids…for highlighting beautiful children with different abilities. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart on behalf of myself and my children, who both have Multiple Hereditary Exostoses.

About J.C. Hannigan

25. Mother. Wife. Lover of words. Weaver of stories. My first book, Collide, is available in e-book for Amazon Kindle and Kobo.
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4 Responses to When is it okay to ask a disabled person about their disability?

  1. Katie says:

    I loved reading this. I could easily relate. I have ADD and OCD and have had them all of my life. Even though they are mental disabilities and not physical disabilities that can be noticed more easily, people still notice them and I do get questioned on them. It was hard as a child being one of the few kids having to see the nurse for medication, you get noticed. Kids are mean. My friends were nice and they didn’t care, but others, like I said, kids are mean. I grew up hating the way I was, and at times I still do, because I’m no longer on medication, even though I have noticed I can’t control it anymore and am in need of it again. Its a struggle for me everyday. I have to remember to stay calm over certain things, that my OCD is why I like and do things a certain way and that not everyone can or will do it that way. I have to remember to talk less at times and to talk slower. I have to concentrate harder when others talk just to be able to focus and remember what they said. I have a bad short term memory because I have ADD and its a lot like having Dementia (memory wise) because I can forget the simplest things so quickly. I don’t asked as much as I get told what I am doing, which is really more hurtful feeling because I know I am doing but I can’t control it well enough to prevent it from happening. So, I often get told to talk quieter, or slow down, or told I’m forgetful. I also get a lot of mean looks when I talk, because I can ramble and not realize I am annoying someone by talking too much and at times I interrupt people on accident because when I think of something, sometimes I can stop my brain from telling my mouth to say it right then and I just blurt things out. Which I then feel terrible about and get looked at like I’m rude when I have no intention to be, it just happens I just wanted to share my story a little because mental disabilities like mine are often talked less about than physical ones. So I am curious about this show. Which I love that your TVO (which is PBS for US) makes that show. I’m not sure if we have it here, but now I want to find out!

    • I believe you can watch episodes online if all else fails! It is a remarkable segment and I love it. Maybe you could write to PBS and suggest a similar segment, if they don’t already have one?

  2. JC your blog is so compelling.. and then I came across that word ‘Exostoses’. Up until about three years ago I’d never communicated with anyone who had HME/MHE, which didn’t make for a self-assured adult life, thinking that all these related HME foibles were in my head, and nobody else really understood. Then I put the word into a Google search.. The result has been pretty amazing amazing…

    Everyone has a talent, and yours… Well keep writing 🙂

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