What Disability?

1 Nov

Letterbalm Woman in a WheelchairDear LetterBalm: My older sister has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair. She’s an incredible person who lives a pretty normal life – a great husband, two kids, a job, an active circle of friends. I admire her because she’s a terrific human being. But I hate the way strangers react to her in public. I’ve seen them move away, stare and pull their kids away as though she had some horrible disease. Waiters and salespersons ignore her and ask me what she wants. Even her doctors and her dentist talk to whoever is with her. I think this ignorance is terrible. I want to say something pithy to these people to turn their attention to her. Please give me the words.

–Not My Sister’s Keeper At All

It’s admirable that your sister is living an authentic life, even with her disability. Clearly, you and she have a strong bond. Ms. L.B. says that medical personnel who treat her as invisible should be nicely told off – no excuse there. And, parents should take it upon themselves to teach their children how to behave when they meet a mentally or physically challenged person: “Don’t stare — it’s unkind — and don’t ask questions. When we’re alone later, I can explain everything to you and answer your questions.” You seem to have a good handle on things. Here’s what you can say:

My sister is not brain-damaged, and even if she were, she would deserve respect. She’s not invisible, and she’s perfectly capable of answering your questions, speaking up for herself and declaring her wishes. Please ask her.  

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