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.”