When people stare

When I was in college I had a job delivering singing balloon-o-grams. I would dress up as a clown or gorilla, drive to someone’s house with a bunch of balloons filling my car (yes, I was a driving gorilla), walk to the person’s front door and deliver not just the balloons but a song as well.

I would get some rather interesting responses from people. I’m tall, so if you can imagine a 6’1” gorilla standing inside the elevator when the doors open on your floor. I received screams as well as laughs. Most of the time I rode the elevator alone. People just didn’t seem to want to ride with me. I have no idea why (grin). I had fun being stared at and having people stop and point. I mean, it’s not every day that you see a gorilla walking down main street.

No matter how much I enjoyed that job, it didn’t prepare me for the stares I get today from people when I wheel myself out of my van dressed as a healthy looking redhead using a wheelchair. I’m not sure exactly why people stare. I don’t know if they’re trying to rationalize my life story in their head once they realize I’m able to drive from my wheelchair, or if they have never seen someone with a handicap before (which I highly doubt), or if they just can’t believe someone looking so good can really be disabled. Regardless, their stares are noticed.

I do my best to not let people’s responses get to me. Almost every time, I look them in the eye, no matter their reaction, and smile. It gives me the opportunity to show them how strong I really am. I figure, if they’re going to stare I might as well give them something to stare at.

I think people assume you should be hanging your head and having a pity party every day when you are disabled. But I can’t live that way, and neither should you. Multiple Sclerosis is a part of our lives. It’s chronic. It’s real. It’s a daily reminder that life can be unfair. But it’s also something to be treasured, lived, and not taken for granted…so make the best of it.

You can do this. Hold your head up and smile today regardless of people’s reactions to seeing you walking a little funny or slurring your words. Don’t let other people’s insensitivities determine your mood. A welcoming smile from you can change their snap judgments and open their eyes to seeing the real you. It doesn’t always work, but 9 times out of 10 it does, so why not give it a try.

My dream is to one day walk down the street and be greeted as me rather than my disability. To be approached with a hello and a handshake rather than head turns and stares. For those with questions to actually ask them rather than assuming and then whispering to their friends. For people to realize that I’m really not the one with the disability. People with a lack of empathy, understanding and love…those are the real disabled in the world.

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About the Author
About the Author
Penelope Conway

Penelope Conway
Penelope started Positive Living with MS as a way to help others with MS stay positive in the midst of a terrible disease. She believes that staying positive and holding onto hope is the key to waking up each morning with the strength to get through the day. Multiple Sclerosis may never go away, but neither will her determination and her drive to help others through the journey.

19 replies
  1. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    Both me at 20 years old & my mum at 50 (looking young) get horrible looks when we park in a disabled space, I’ve got RRMS & my mum has a degenerative spinel condition, that extra room helps! Seen my mum wave the blue badge at some people because they’re soo judgmental! Seen looks change quickly when I have to get my mums walker out the back! 🙂

  2. Rodger Ashton-Smith
    Rodger Ashton-Smith says:

    This is what I ean when I say that the kids in our mainly music program have learnt to deal with me in my wheelchair. And most of the mums too. The ones with ‘older’ kids have seen me in a different light but now realize I’m still me and not someone else. It’s really gratifying to experience and gives me encouragement that helps me feel good

  3. Christine Lever says:

    Nice one! I was once to told “hurry up and open the bloody gate”. I was at a Circular Quay ferry gate in Sydney, Australia, the gate needed to be pulled aside and because I was the first in line it fell to me to attempt it. I eventually did it with help but this really obnoxious woman at the back of the crowd yelled at me. I turned around and calmly said “I have multiple sclerosis. It’s difficult for me to move the gate. Any help would be appreciated”. Every head turned to look at her and then a rush of nearby hands helped me to get the gate open! I don’t often play the disability card out in public but it was a very hot day, lots of people crowded around me, only one person heckled me but the rudeness of her tone of voice was what got to me.

  4. Heather Adsit says:

    You are taller than me so if I ever see you in person know…. I’m looking at you height and how beautiful you are….. not your disability 🙂

    It annoys me when people stair at me.

    I walk…. but sometimes depending on if I got a cold like now…. or a stressful day of to much chasing after my toddler.
    I will use the shopping carts at walmart.

    I have to be careful not to push my limits… epically when I’m alone because I can fall and go into a seizure :/

    So I know I look better than I am inside.
    But looks are deceiving and when I get the glares or hear others mutter “How dare she uses that cart.”

    It makes me down right mad.
    Epically if I have not stood up.

    I think of those like you. The many who are in a chair and need it a bit more.

    If people can judge me before I even move…… what do they say and do to those who can hardly move.

    It makes me so mad.

    This page is good for my temper because I know I should just ignore them…. but I got a mouth and I have a bad habit of using it.

    I don’t let anyone disrespect me….. and sure not another person who has a disability.

    Once a checker at the grocery store went off about a person who faked being disabled.

    I asked her how she knew the person was faking.
    She made me mad with her response.

    “One day this person is in a wheel chair. The next day this person has a cane and seems like that person can walk just fine.”

    I raised my voice repeating what she said sarcastically saying
    “Yes that is horriable. How dare a person use the system like that.
    If you can walk then walk right?”

    She smiled and shook her head yes and thought she was so smart while the line of people glared at her in disgust.

    Then I told her.
    “I guess I am a horriable person as well. I was using a cane the other day… now I’m walking.
    I should be ashamed to use a wheel chair on some days.
    I only have MS and that’s not a disability right!”

    The people in her line actually moved to another checker.
    The manager Hurd it all and pulled her off.
    Needless to say I was not the first complaint.

    She lost her job due to going off on a few people.

    It’s so anoying….. just know we all stick together.
    I fight for those who have even less energy then me.

    I am sure I’m not the only one.
    Your right.

    It took me years to see it was not my fault and I should not have to act bad and ruin a good day just to make others happy with what they expect to see.

  5. Marsha Bell says:

    When I see someone using a mobility device, or see a bumper sticker’d car, I just want to ask them do you maybe have MS like me? I want to ask about their storms and give a supportive fist bump. But I fear that would be stalker-ish :

  6. Nancy Jones
    Nancy Jones says:

    Yes indeed! Smile and, if feasible, make polite conversation! I got out of our car after parking in the handicap spot with my mom (87 years young) who also walks with a cane. There were a few people standing in the walkway in the front of our car and as I got out with my cane I heard “oh, she has a cane, so she’s handicapped”. Really? I sort of giggled because a few seconds later I realized that the person who said it was also handicapped, but was a younger mentally challenged individual. You would not know it by looking at him. His speech came somewhat slowly and stilted, but I smiled and said hello to him and we proceeded to have a lovely conversation about what our handicaps were and how great we were feeling that day. Then we both smiled and went about our business, he with his brain injury and me with my MS!

  7. Debbie Godlove
    Debbie Godlove says:

    The stares don’t bother me any more. I go out my way to look my best, and get a kick out of the stares! Most people are thoughtful, holding doors for me, I just tell them I’m pretty slow, but they don’t seem to mind. Always thank them. People ask to help me get my walker into the car, I usually just tell them I’m used to it, but thanks. If I’m tired, I accept their help and thank them for being so thoughtful.

  8. Julie Mitchell Dilbeck says:

    I use a cane as much as possible, and a wheelchair when necessary. People stare at both, and I try to remember that I probably used to do the same thing before I became disabled.

    I think the stare is better than being ignored, though. I can say “Hi,” and smile at them and make them feel more comfortable. It’s an awkward position for all of us, but it’s just part of life with MS. Have to remind myself to stay positive, though.

  9. Michele Traub Valentine says:

    When I’m in my wheelchair I can see people trying to assess my situation. I can see their eyes move from top to bottom as they search for clues. Maybe they’re looking for a cast? Maybe an amputated limb? Bandages? I suppose had I never had MS myself I may do the same to others? I try to smile at everyone. Some days it definitely doesn’t come naturally but it usually pays off with a smile in return. Obviously not always…certainly worth the risk of a rejected smile though. Why should I allow someone else’s frown ruin my day?

  10. Leah
    Leah says:

    I know, I constantly get stared at when entering a restaurant, a store, my apartment building, etc. This bothers me a lot and makes me feel like a freak. I smile as you do, but this still doesn’t make me feel any better. I suppose with time, I’ll become immune to these stares and feel less awkward.

  11. Stacy Neuman says:

    I think what bothers me more than stares is the way people act as though you aren’t worthy of even talking to as if you don’t exist, even people who were once friends think you aren’t worth their time.I just live my life and live in the happy moments and accept what is, life can still be good…

  12. Jolie
    Jolie says:

    I always think that people expect the elderly to be in wheelchairs, using canes/walkers, and parking in the handicap spots at stores. Then they see me, a woman in her 30s with three little kids, using a scooter and a cane, and they just stare because they’re not sure what to think, and it makes me feel self-conscious. Thank you for giving me such a positive way to look at it instead.

    • Melissa
      Melissa says:

      I know exactly how you feel, I dont need aids to walk but get very tired walking distances so I have a blue badge (UK disablity parking permit) to allow me to park in the disabled spaces closer to the doors. I’m only 20 & get people tuting, shaking heads and searching me for a disability, it really gets on my nerves!
      Its my disablity, and not their business!

  13. Lynda
    Lynda says:

    Right on!

    I was at the Botanical Gardens with my husband when I was bumped into by a woman that was not looking where she was going…..i was walking with my cane…. After she bumped into me, I kindly asked to be careful…. She turned and looked at me with discuss and replied: oh! What are you doing here. Playing the victim! And she walked away.

    True ignorance in action.

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