Please don’t turn your child’s face away from me
Or block their view of me
Or turn the pushchair around
Or give them the look
Children are curious about the world around them and always look at things that interest them. I’d be worried if a child didn’t find a person shouting ‘Biscuit’, banging themselves on the chest repeatedly, or using a wheelchair, interesting.
I don’t find children’s curious looks rude, nor do I find their playful mimicking of my movements upsetting. Seeing me can give them a valuable opportunity to experience and learn about difference, and how you respond as an adult matters a lot too.
Not only do the actions of embarrassed, uneasy adults often stop a child’s opportunity to experience difference, they also risk embedding the idea that disability’s something that should be out of sight, that it’s embarrassing, and that wanting to know and understand more about it is naughty.
I understand the reason why you tell your child not to stare is often because you don’t want to hurt my feelings. But by telling them to ignore me, and their own curiosity, you’re establishing in them patterns of prejudice. These not only make the world a less pleasant place for us all but can also affect how they feel about their own differences or disabilities, now or in the future.
So please do:
• Encourage your children to smile at me and say hello, and do the same yourself
• Relax, and show them by your own behaviour that it’s OK (you don’t need suddenly to find the fogged up surface of a bus window fascinating)
• Ask me if I mind their attention rather than telling them off
• Ask me if I mind answering questions about my tics or my disability
• Remind them that we all look different and do things in different ways, and that this is a wonderful thing
I expect you were told not to stare by your parents (I definitely was by mine) but I think it’s time to rethink staring. Much as with swearing, what’s crucial is the intention behind the stare. A child looking at me with natural curiosity is a world away from a thoughtless adult staring and making judgements about me because I’m different.
Children should be encouraged to look at and engage with everything in the world around them – a plane, a dog, a colourful hat. There’s no reason why a disabled person on a bus needs to be seen any differently.