I have the Perfect Answer.
Consistently, this is THEE MOST downloaded Radiant Living post. So, as the blog launches into the theme of TAKING RISKS for the next quarter, let’s begin replaying it and taking a small risk by handing them the UNEXPECTED and PERFECT ANSWER.
I can certainly understand a five-year old asking this of someone living with a disability. I always use it as a teachable moment with kids and begin by saying, “I walk and talk differently because I have cerebral palsy.” Depending on their age, they may be satisfied with that or if they have a heightened sense of curiosity, it may lead to a discussion about what cerebral palsy is. Either way, it’s all good.
It’s when adults ask me this, is when I have difficulty. We won’t even discuss here about the need to back to Sensitivity and Manners 101. Let’s talk about the myth people are perpetuating when they ask this question.
“What’s wrong with you?” implies that there’s an inherent flaw that needs to be corrected in someone. A disability is just a facet of who we are, among all our other attributes. When people use the word wrong and we all know they mean our disability, they are implying it is bad, faulty, mistaken, out of line, rotten, etc. to live with a disability, rather than what’s perfect and natural about you.
Years ago I was buying new living room furniture. I stopped in at a store and met this lovely saleswoman, who gave me a handful of fabric samples to take home to hold up to my freshly painted walls. I probably spent 45 minutes with her looking at furniture and fabric. The next week I dutifully returned the samples. She thanked me and said, “Now, tell me, what’s wrong with you?”
I quickly covered up the shocked look on my face. The shock came not from her asking that of me. I know people are always thinking that. The shock was more insensitivity of how she phrased her question. This was just a social skill my mother taught me from early on.
So I looked her in the eye, smiled, and said, “NOTHING.” I also let the silence of her speechlessness hang there for a bit. Really wished those were the days when our cell phones had cameras.
After I let her sit in a little discomfort, I explained how I have cerebral palsy. Did she get the lesson of nothing being wrong with me? Probably not, but I got the perfect answer to an awful question.
What ways have you responded to similar questions? Please share in the comments below or on Facebook.
And if you’re reading this and thinking, “Oh no, I have asked that before,” no worries. Life is all about learning. People living with disabilities want you to ask, but please, please be sensitive and polite. Try one of these questions:
1. I see you________________ (i.e. use a wheelchair), can you tell me why?
2. May I ask about your disability?
3. I am curious about ________________ (whatever your observation is), can you tell me a bit about it.
I always appreciate people wanting to learn more because that’s how we expand our thoughts and beliefs. Just think out how you phrase your question.