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It's Okay to Stare... Then Engage a Question!


By John Register
Associate Director, Outreach & Development, U.S. Paralympics

When I was five or six-years-old and saw a person with a physical or cognitive disability, I would stop, stare, point my finger and might have said, “Look at them Mom and Dad!” as I tugged on her skirt or his coat tail.  It was a new discovery time for me!

My mother or father would usually tell me that it was impolite to stare.  They may have even offered an apology to the person who was the focus of my attention. Then, they would then promptly take me down another aisle, or usher me in some other direction so as not to cause anymore embarrassment to the person or to me.

How many times has this played out in the lives of persons with disabilities?  How many times have we had to endure the ignorance of others?  Later on in my teens, I would see these same individuals through eyes of pity and wonder how they acquired their misfortune. Inevitably, I would avert my eyes or find myself looking for a path of escape and flee to safety so as not to make direct contact with them. I thought those windows of the soul would be able to see right down to my own shallowness. What was I afraid of?  Why did I feel sorry for them?

Amazingly, my perspective has since changed since my accident and subsequent physical disability.  It is ironic that five-year-old kids now staring at me as I walk the store aisles in my shorts that expose my artificial leg.  I can see them out of the corner of my eye tugging on their Moms’ skirts or Dads’ coats , pointing in the direction of their new discovery…me!  I over hear the whispers, “It's impolite to stare!”

It took a few months for me to overcome the stares of others.  Though I was self conscious about it, I did not do anything about it.  In fact I was very good at becoming oblivious and indifferent to it.  In my opinion it was their ignorance that was the real disability.  I chose not to give the uncomfortable situation life; I chose not to react, not to respond nor give it any attention.  Was some unwritten cycle of avoidance to a social issue was being allowed to continue?

During one of these occasions of perpetual avoidance, I began to think how I might change the outcome of this expected scenario.  After thinking about it, I boiled it down to this - our need for information and the answering of questions, "What happened to you?" and "Why are you different than I?"

My perspective changed the day I sat on a warm summer day in  an airport gate area. I was wearing shorts.  Not so much because it was hot but because I seem to get through the TSA security lines faster!As I sat there two young kids came up to me looked at my leg, and asked me,  "Hey Mister, what happened to your leg?" The question caught me a bit off guard. At the same moment I noticed a smiling woman walking toward me who was probably the mother of one of these two little inquisitive monsters.  I prepared myself for the apology she would offer.  But what she did next shocked me.  Her words were the platform and catalyst for a personal change in my perspective.“Excuse me sir,” she began as she pulled her two children close to her.  “My name is Jenny, and these are my two sons (Kevin and Chris), they are fascinated by your artificial leg.  Would you mind explaining to them how you lost your leg and how this leg helps you get around now?”

I was blown away!  What a simple thing to ask! She just flipped the script on me.  Now, with the other passengers in the area looking at me for a response, I knew the next words out of my mouth would have the impact of giving them a positive or a negative experience about this current situation and perhaps reinforce their perceptions about persons with disabilities. I looked at the lady and her two kids and said, “Sure!”

I proceeded to speak about my athletic career which culminated in winning the silver medal at the 2000 Paralympic Games.  I ended on a positive note saying that no matter what happens to you in life, you can choose to make your life bitter or better because of it.Jenny thanked me.  Her kids thanked me and said, “You’re cool!”  I heard a few chuckles by passengers who were eavesdropping on the conversation.   

I realized at that moment that I was just as much a cause for their ignorance and perception about my leg.  If I wanted people to treat me for who I am then I would have to accept all types of attitudinal perceptions.  From that moment I began to look for teachable moments and do my part to decrease attitudinal and social barriers for the disabled.  With and emphasis on the physical disabled population.Those of us who have a limitation physical or otherwise do not have to shy away from the rest of the people who appear normal. 

 We have a voice and can effectively use it to foster a better world.

JFA Daily 3/5/08


12.03.2008

All news:

„A Midnight Summer Dream“
Court Cases filed in the Name of Persons with Disability
Freedom Drive 2009 - Demands
INFORMATION FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES ABOUT H1N1 VIRUS
My world has changed – two stories in one
European Citizen Award
Not just a pretty Facebook
First deaf Member of Parliament is sworn in
Letter to Prime Minister Cvetkovic
PA Service in Leskovac too
International Day of Persons with Disabilities - 3 December 2009
MIDWAY
New TV broadcast
Malta: MOTE - My Opinion My Vote
Access to persons with disability
„CLOSER TOGETHER“ PROJECT
SERBIA RATIFIED UN CONVENTION
Court case dealing with UN COnvention in Germany
Europe Day
Convention sign-ups
WHY SHOULD EUROPE INCREASE THE MATERNITY LEAVE?
Learning disability genes found
Poland: Disabled People Excluded from EU Elections
International Autism Day
Coucil for persons with disability
My right to be healthy
NEW RATIFICATION
International Day of Rare Diseases
PERSONAL ASSISTANCE BILLS
Disability Equality: Promoting Positive Attitudes
SERVICE IN JAGODINA
White House launched a new website today and disability issues are highlighted under the Agenda heading
Conference on Cooperation for Improvement of Disability Policy in Serbia
Workshhop on CRPD
First Committee of Experts on Disability Rights Convention Elected
GREAT SUPPORT TO ANTONIJEVIC FAMILY
Parking for everyone
Electoral rights for PWDs in Albania
Petition
The ways of integration
Finding a College That Suits Students “With Special Needs”
Another silver medal for Serbia
Paralympic silver
The Annual march for Disabled Visibility in Madrid
Good Practise/Bad Practice
UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
Free our People!
All... but not retard.
European Day of Disabled People 2008
Parents' fury at 'Down's Syndrome dolls'
Eurobarometer on discrimination
Less sex, less fun
Coming Soon, a Braille Silver Dollar
Roads to integration
Disability proves no barrier to Olympic inclusion
Media and Disability
Media and disability
Bishop
Are there any changes in preparations for Paraolympics?
U.N Issues Stamps to Commemorate Disability Treaty
Beijing 'sorry' for offending disabled
Government unveils new package for disabled children
China Sets Gold Standard in Offending Disabled
Smederevo Coalition
Way to Independence
On Empowerment
Assistive Technologies
Press Conference
Wishes could come true
Seminar on reforms of social protection system
National Conference on Gender Equality
Mobility International Seeks Young Adults
Wal-Mart settles with applicant with disability [USA]
First Contestant with a Disability to Compete for Miss USA Title
INFO - CENTER
INACCESSIBILITY IS DISCRIMINATION!
UN Convention on PWDs rights
Conference on National strategy for Youth
Bits and pieces from Slovenija
Meeting with Bozidar Djelic
Focus group “Social services for PWDs“
SHARE SEE Grantee Training
Make a date
It's Okay to Stare... Then Engage a Question!
Sombor hosted workshop "sex, gender, disability"
Dancing Beyond Disability
Seminar HUMAN BEING AND ITS ENVIRONMENT
Project From Alternative to Standardisation
The regional group of experts in social service provision for people with disabilities
Youth Regional conference
Are we going to Europe?
Disability Guide to Disneyland Paris
POI Conference "From cause to the result: New approaches towards disability"
Open Letter to the Government, Members of National Assembly Competent Institutions and Policy Makers
Centre plan for disabled actors
An Autistic Dream
MEETING ON DISABILITY ISSUES IN SERBIA
A PARAGIDM SHIFT FROM 'CHARITY' TO 'RIGHTS AND DIGNITY'
Transport benefits
New Visa rules
Disabled rights champion honoured
Map of the World
Serbia is going to sign UN CRPD
WORKSHOP IN CAIRO
Seminar on Women with Disabilities
Adaptation of living environment for Persons with Disabilities
Program „Contact Organisations from the Civil Society”
Community Living for Disabled People Must Be Made a Priority
Celebrating 3rd December
Celebrating the 3rd December 2007
FILM FESTIVAL OBSERVING 3 DECEMBER
National Umbrella Organisation mark 3rd of December
ENDING OF SHARE SEE TRAINING PROGRAM
SHARE SEE IV MODULE – NISKA BANJA
IMPORTANT DAYS TO CELEBRATE
To Ministry of Labor and Social Policy
SHARE SEE training in Predejane
Recognising the Rights of Girls and Women with Disabilities
SHARE SEE IV MODULE IN SMEDEREVO
Creation the Local Plans of Actions in Disability Area
SHARE SEE IV MODULE – BELGRADE
TODAY IS THE DAY OF UN
Goodbye mouse hello voice controls
Elena Pecaric
Award
AWARENESS RISING
INTERNATIONAL DAY OF POVERTY REDUCTION
ADA RESTORATION ACTION CENTER
WHERE IS SERBIA
Disability Rights Treaty on Verge of Making History?
The Days of European Heritage in Belgrade, 20-30 of September
Council of Europe in Zagreb
Seoul Declaration
Virtual interpreter turns speech into sign language
Strasbourg Freedom Drive
UN Convention
Jagodina hosted the Third Table tennis tournament "Jagodina Trophy"
Hungary ratified UN Convention
Convention on Child Protection
UN convention on disability rights reaches milestone in signatories
IIIrd INTERNATIONAL SMILING CHILD FESTIVAL
Your dressing room on the Internet
Chosen home life a basic right for disabled people
SPORT RESULTS
What Can They Do?
III Module of trainings accomplished
SHARE SEE trainings
Project with young activists finished
Special EUROBAROMETER 263 “Discrimination in the European Union”
Seminar on Independent Living in Macedonia
It's Deaf Awareness Week 7-13 May
International Day of Families (15 May)
European Coalitions
Social services in South East Europe
Test on Autism
UN Headquarters, New York, NY
Presentation the UN Convention in Belgrade
Presentation of UN Convention on rights of persons with disabilities in Jagodina
SHARE SEE training in Belgrade
SHARE SEE training for Leskovac cluster
SHARE SEE Module II in Nis
The U.S. Embassy has a pleasure to invite you
SHARE SEE trainings Module II
I N T E R V I E W
GATEWAY
DYSGRAPHIA
UN Study of Violence Against Women Finds 50% of Disabled Women Experience Abuse
Launch of the Year of Equal Opportunities
Interesting events
Survey reveals social attitudes to disability
Homes that Meet Life’s Changing Needs
Awards for the best Campaign, PAs and users within the PASS project
Design for Everyone, Disabled or Not
STRATEGY
EDUCATION FOR MEMBERS OF POLITICAL PARTIES IN NOVI SAD ON BASIC FACTS ON DISABILITY ISSUES!
AWARDS COMPETITION
UN Convention adopted
Tribune on UN Convention in Novi Sad
Round table in Sarajevo
Evropean Union and Persons with Disabilities
Promotion of International Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities
PASS presentation in Bosnia and Herzegovina
International Day of Disabled Persons
World Congress on Disability
N. Korea puts disabled in camps
Universal Design
European Conference in St Petersburg
UN reward to Poland
SHARE SEE Training in Belgrade
Antidiscriminatory practice in Norway
SHARE SEE Training in Leskovac
UN Convention
DISABLED PEOPLE FROM SPANISH INDEPENDENT LIVING MOVEMENT HAVE CANCELLED THEIR LOCK IN
8th Session of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Rights and Dignity of Persons
UN AGREES ON DISABILITY TREATY TEXT
Geneva, 23 August 2006
SHARE SEE Training in Smederevo
SHARE SEE Training in Krusevac
UN Convention - 13 August 2006
Independent living hope
8th Conference of the European Union of Supported Employment
The implementation of Poverty Reduction Strategy goes on
Independent Living seminar in Tirana
E-ACCESSIBILITY TO BE THEME FOR INTERNATIONAL DAY
New CIL branch
CIL Sport Competition
United Nations takes a big step towards accessibility
Social service for PWDs in the Republic of Serbia
New EU diversity spot airing on MTV
Study visits in Brussels for delegates of disabled people organisations from the Western Balkans on 27-29 June 2006
Poverty
EDF Annual General Meeting
Brochure on CIL 10th Anniversary



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