By Alexis Snyder | In a recent blog I wrote about Invisible Disabilities and how millions of Americans live with invisible disorders that sometimes cause others to make inappropriate judgments and comments. I shared a little bit of my family’s own experience with being accused of handicapped parking abuse because my daughter lives with an invisible disability. I am used to comments from others, some seemingly harmless, and others more harsh, when people make quick judgements about my daughter and/or family because they can’t see her disability. I am an advocate and usual able to take these comments in stride and use them as a teaching moment to help spread awareness for invisible disabilities. Unfortunately there have been times when kids who haven’t been educated about invisible disabilities say something directly to or in front of my daughter that are upsetting. These too are good teachable moments in which I can help my daughter learn how to respond with dignity and self-confidence. She is a good self advocate and is also passionate about spreading awareness and educating other kids about invisible disabilities. Over the years she has learned how to answer other kid’s questions or comments in a positive way. However, one recent incident left my daughter tongue tied and more angry then upset.
One day recently, as my daughter re-counted her happenings at school, I was shocked to hear about an encounter she had, not with another child, but an adult. As she does every morning, she was waiting with a friend to use the elevator to get to homeroom and start her school day. As she hit the up button a women approached pushing a child in a wheelchair. The woman became agitated and proceeded to lean over my daughter and harshly hit the down button. When the elevator arrived with the up arrow lit, my daughter and her friend got on and watched as the woman became more agitated and rolled her eyes ( I guess she was in a hurry to go down). They shrugged it off, but then as the doors started to close they overheard the woman turn to her daughter and in an unpleasant tone say, “Why is THAT girl using the elevator?” Now of course I have no idea which girl she was referring to but does it matter? Of course not. This woman had no idea why either or both girls might need to use the elevator, she only assumed that either one or both didn’t have need to because she couldn’t see a reason why. And what she can’t see is that my daughter has a metabolic neuromuscular disorder that makes using stairs difficult and unsafe and virtually impossible with a giant rolling backpack that she doesn’t have the strength to lift.
After hearing her recant the details I was angry. First, not because some-one had made a quick and inaccurate judgement but because an adult, at school of all places, felt that it was ok to say something about another child. Did she not stop and think about the impact her comment may have on my child? Would she want some to speak about her child in a negative tone? Second I was angry because this woman was teaching her child to make judgements based on visual clues. And I couldn’t help but think about her own child, who had broken her leg, and that she might be using the elevator in the near future without a wheelchair or cast to visual why. So what happened next?
I of course let our principal know about the incident since it involved another adult at school and hoped that when he followed up with this woman it might be an ah ha awareness moment for her, the jury is still out on that one… After I arrived home and had some more time to think about it, I realized the problem is not only about raising awareness about invisible disabilities, it’s about respect. Respect for all people in all places. Why are we so quick to judge others? Why is the reason my daughter uses the elevator of any concern to this woman or anyone else? What ever happened to giving someone the benefit of the doubt? And why are we so concerned about everything everyone else is doing? It saddens me to think about the lack of respect our society has for each other as human beings. To think that an adult thought it OK to make a comment in arm’s length from daughter is appalling. Is this what we are teaching the next generation? I speak often about educating and raising awareness for all types of differences and it is something I will always be passionate about. But I think we need to educate and raise awareness about respect for our fellow man. The next generation needs to grow up respecting everyone for who they are and focusing their attention on more important matters in life rather than who is using an elevator and why.
It’s not just about awareness, it’s about respect.