What do you do when people stare at your disability?

When I was in college I had a job delivering singing balloon-o-grams. I would dress up as a clown or a 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 in 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 in a wheelchair, or if they have never seen someone with a disability before (which I highly doubt), or if they just can’t believe someone looking so good can really be disabled in the first place. 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 ease the tensions and 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. One day I should fake a complete body spasm to really mess with them. (Shake, twitch, shake, grunt, moan…grin.)

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 and really, really difficult, 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 help open their eyes to seeing the real you rather than the disability. 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 about my disability 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.

5 replies
    • Janet Stanzel
      Janet Stanzel says:

      Unfortunately most people (in my case) don’t try to get to know me and only think they know the disease. 😞

  1. Disien
    Disien says:

    I stare back. This produces one of the following responses:

    1. Person quickly drop eyes, and shuffles away sheepishly
    2. Person produces an embarrassed grin, then drops eyes, and shuffles away sheepishly
    3. Person shuffles away, still staring, barges into something, and makes a dick of themselves. At this point I laugh and say thank you to the universe.

    p.s. there is a huge difference between people who look at you to see if you need help e.g. with opening a door, and those who gape opened mouthed at you like the village idiot. The former are those lovely souls in life that we are blessed to encounter. The latter deserve to have a fly land in their gaping mouths.

  2. Catherine
    Catherine says:

    This is so true , I hate it when people stare at me because I’m walking funny and wobbling holding on to walls , furniture , if only they knew ….

  3. bunny
    bunny says:

    your ending is so very true. we might have physical disabilities but they are seriously disabled with lack of respect and emotions.
    i look at it as a “game”… never let them win, we are stronger than they will ever be… they are just to stupid to realize it 🙂


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