Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 2 seconds

The Wheelchair Question – Talking to Kids About Disabilities

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 2 seconds

Wheelchair whizzes by
Kids are in art class, painting and drawing and moving around, occasionally getting in each others’ way. One of the kids is on a wheelchair and he looks a lot like this other kid who is dressed identically (school uniform?) but a bit shorter (brother?)

My daughter watches with fascination as wheelchair kid (I am now ashamed I never asked his name) presses buttons and his chair moves.

She asks, “What’s that?” and I say “It’s a wheelchair” (convo is in English; unsure how many ppl in the room understand English)

She says “I want one of those!”

And for some reason, my first reaction was “Yeah it’s kinda cool, isn’t it?”

At the same time I hear someone say “be3d el Shar 3aleiki” which literally translated means “may such evil be far from you” and is a common reaction to that kind of situation in Egypt but I found it deeply offensive.

Apparently the kid’s brother didn’t like my answer and told me knowingly, “he has it because he has a problem with-”

“Yes, I know” I say. I smile.

“Can I have one?” she asks. And I draw a total blank as to what I should do. And we leave quickly.

This scenario happened to my almost 5 yo the other day and I want a redo.

I have been thinking about it for a bit over a day now.

I should have asked the guy his name
I should have told him and my daughter that while I understand he is on a wheelchair because he can’t walk without it, I still think it’s a really cool thing and he is a special person.

Or something. I went to my mom and she was pretty blank, too, even though I seem to remember her doing a good job with me. But maybe when I was older?

Before writing this blogpost (which is btw meant to solicit tips on how to introduce kids to disabilities)  I Googled the question of how to introduce kids to disabilities. I got Baby Center. Which was my best friend when I was pregnant but I rarely checked since she turned one. Because “baby”. In the title. They had good tips for 5-8 year olds. Including being honest with your child (erm no “yeah, it’s cool” then?) but I don’t think they say how you should handle things when your kid is loud and the other kid is within hearing range.

My daughter has a pretty serious syndrome that isn’t immediately visible in a way that would make people point at her. Even though I know about that, it’s much easier to know and not have attention drawn about something outwardly obvious. E.g. My mom’s building has a kid with one eye that is clearly not normal. My kid constantly asks what’s up with it when she sees it. Loudly. The kid is her age. I ache for him. I tell her he has a wawa (Arabic for booboo) and she should not point at him. Hopefully soon she will be old enough to at least be less loud? Maybe I should be having these conversations more openly at home, using photos from the Internet or something.

I remember when I was young and first saw some kids with Down’s Syndrome. My mom (a physician) explained what it was and encouraged me to smile and wave to them. I still do that to this day. It’s automatic.

I should have asked the kid his name. If it had been a cool device that wasn’t a wheelchair I would have asked his name. I should have just asked

2 thoughts on “The Wheelchair Question – Talking to Kids About Disabilities

  1. Two of my children had something something that made them visibly different (l temporary / I permanent ). In the first temporary case, l took him out into a crowded town and very soon gave up because of the pointing and staring he attracted from people of all ages. In a way, this was a good lesson for me to learn before his brother arrived who had a cleft lip and palate that was repaired over 13 months but he was still noticeably different from others. So the reality for those who are visibly ‘different’ is that they grow up being the object of probably unwelcome attention. Their parents have a special job to convince them that this difference from others doesn’t make them less human. But I think all parents have a responsibility to show and tell their children that everyone is human first regardless of difference. So it’s good that you have raised this Maha but l do think it’s something much broader than ‘big’ differences like wheelchairs. l didn’t realise till he was grown up how much casual pointing, comments and teasing my son had to endure. I think we can ‘naturalise ‘ difference by talking about it early and often. BTW, I am not suggesting that the ‘different’ person should be used as a teaching aid unless they offer that. As a parent, l always addressed negative comments from other children openly and pleasantly, but always prepared to point out that ‘ looks different ‘ doesn’t mean they are in any way less than the person pointing out the difference.

    1. Thank you Frances. That’s really helpful. I like the term “naturalize” in this context. It’s natural for us all to be different.

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