Asking is better than staring at me. Asking is better than avoiding me. Asking is better than making up something about me that isn’t true. I have been saying these things for years–mostly assuring embarrassed parents that it’s okay that their child asked me about my prosthetic arm–but now I’m not alone. In addition to the fantastic Jacob’s Eye Patch, now there is It’s Okay to Ask from Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare. Two picture books and me all saying the same message will surely convince people, right? ;)
On MPR News, Tom Weber spoke with a Gillette doctor and a young patient about the book and their experiences talking about disabilities, and he expressed surprise that it was okay to ask about someone’s disability. “Has that really been the thing we said about how we should interact?” he asked more than once. The guests assured him that questions aren’t necessarily rude. It’s the intent behind the questions that is either friendly or rude. I found myself nodding along at what the guests were saying over and over again.
Here’s what I know about questions:
- “What’s wrong with you?” is probably not the best question, but even if your child does ask it that way, it’s okay. It’s a teachable moment. Encourage them to rephrase it without making them feel bad for being curious.
- Questions are better than assumptions, and the best questions assume the least. “How did you lose your arm?” for example assumes I lost an arm, which I did not, but I understand that it isn’t always easy to come up with the best phrasing on the spot. Don’t stress about the best way to put it. It’s usually pretty clear when someone means a question nicely.
- Equipment makes questions easier. I get way more questions when I am wearing my prosthetic arm than when I go without it. It seems people are usually more comfortable asking about a piece of technology than they are about a physical difference.
I offered more points to consider in this post on The Blogunteer back in 2012. In that post, I said:
“It’s okay to be curious. That is probably the most important thing I want to tell people. The key is how you express your curiosity.”
That is still true. Questions are okay. Even poorly worded questions are okay. The important thing is that we move past staring at or avoiding people with disabilities or physical differences. I’d rather have to answer an impolite question than always be Other. As in the book It’s Okay to Ask, once we get past our differences, we can get to what we have in common.
Have a question about my limb difference or prosthetic arm? See Fake Arm 101
for answers to some common questions or send me an email with some question I haven’t covered yet: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some time ago, I wrote about my thoughts on a review of a teen novel and its portrayal of disability. Well, now I have to take issue with several reviews that expressed similar sentiment about Someday by Alison McGhee, a picture book that follows a mother and daughter throughout the daughter’s life.
Here’s what people said:
These reviews might be right for some kids, but my little one is fascinated by growing up–and by remembering that she was once a baby. She asks for this book again and again. She pores over the illustrations with the eyes of a girl who wants to know what changes lie ahead for her. She probably doesn’t pick up on the ending’s sad note quite yet. For now, this book is the map she seems to be looking for.
I got more than I bargained for when I took Ladybug to the neighborhood park this afternoon. A school group descended upon “our” park, and it wasn’t long before I became a bit of a park celebrity. Kids were crowded around me and calling their friends over: “This lady only has one arm! Check it out!”
While it wasn’t what I expected when we left for the park, I am happy to provide a safe space for kids to ask questions of someone who looks different. I was born with one arm, so I’ve some time to get used to answering questions. They quizzed me on the usual topics. How do you peel a banana? How do you write? How do you hug? A few kids were concerned that it hurt, and I assured them that it didn’t. They were also amazed that my daughter, who quietly played in the sand nearby seemingly oblivious to the crowd around me, did not “look like me.” I explained, to the best of my ability, that it isn’t genetic. That it’s just something that happens. My usual line “Everybody is born differently, and this is how I was born” sometimes comforts kids and sometimes doesn’t.
One little girl seemed particularly concerned for me. She asked, “Do you need someone to take care of you?” I just smiled and said that I take care of myself just fine.
I’m happy to answer questions. Check out Fake Arm 101 to get answers to the usual questions. Still wondering something? Feel free to ask. :)