I was on a train recently, travelling home from visiting my sister and best friend in London. After a good night out the evening before, I was feeling quite tired and hoped to pass the journey quietly with my Kindle for company.
At one of the stops, a mother with her young daughter got on and sat opposite me. The daughter must have been around six or seven and was very chatty! There went my quiet journey home but I smiled as the little girl asked her mum question after question, no doubt driving her mum mad! Being so inquisitive, the little girl’s attention soon turned towards me and she asked her mum “why does that lady need a wheelchair?”
Staring out the window, I waited to see how mum would reply all the little girl got was “I don’t know” so I decided to try and help. “I have something wrong with my legs, they don’t work properly.” I told the little girl cheerily. I hoped her mum might engage with me, if only a little bit.
Instead, the little girl turned to her mum, telling her “I sounded weird”. I’d hoped mum might correct her and explain that the word weird wasn’t very polite but mum just asked her to be quiet – not too much avail.
The incident made me smile but it also saddened me. Mum didn’t seem interested in engaging or educating her daughter but perhaps, more likely, didn’t know how to and maybe, was afraid of offending me. But it really was a missed opportunity for the little girl, particularly as I showed my willingness to engage with her.
That’s why I’m so passionate about my “Disability Awareness for Kids” sessions and have decided to offer them for free until the end of this academic year. Parents and even teachers may feel awkward about talking about disability, but it really is important that they understand the issues and get honest answers to their questions.
They need to know it’s not weird. Just different.