What Are You Staring at?: Small Voices For a New Generation

Hello everyone,

A lot of people talk about the technological advances being made in an effort to help people live more independently as a productive citizens of the USA. Some simply view these advances as just another useful tool helping them to get through another difficult day with a disability; whereas, others view this technology as in “opening to a whole new world”. Either way, people view technology, I think we are missing out on a fundamental truth.

What is that truth?

Change begins from within..

To put it more simply, change begins with me. Or anyone that is, wanting to make a difference in this world. I may have written about this topic once or twice before, but I think it’s worthwhile mentioning again. (Note: Although from now on, I think I am going to start using the labels to make sure I don’t end up repeating myself over and over again! LOL..) Anyway, this point was reiterated to me again through a unique Nick News Special called What Are You Staring at? The show featured a panel of outspoken people (both young and old) living with the a variety of disabilities. In this 30 minute panel discussion, the group attempts to answer some difficult questions. Some of the questions centered around the age-old dilemma To Help or not to Help: when does the line stop? as well as when exactly is the appropriate time for questions. The panel is also joined by well-known disability advocates John Hockenberry and Christopher Reeve (1952-2004). Although this program is over five years ago, I think there are many important lessons that still can be heard through the voices of these wise young children.

In order to save time, I will attempt to consolidate the most poignant answers to all these issues. The first being, is it appropriate to stare at someone because they are different.
The obvious answer is no. But here’s why.. Christopher Reeve put it best when he said, ” No matter what kind of condition you’re in, we’re all part of a big family and we only become strangers when we look away.” He continues, “There is no reason for us to be strangers.”

The debate over whether to help someone with a disability has also brought controversy. In my case, I can often understand why. Usually disabled people want to have the opportunity to try to accomplish things on their own before finally asking for help. However, it is not impolite to ask if they need your assistance in any way. Danielle who has CP and is also blind explains, “if I am struggling and if the door is really heavy, mainly out of common courtesy, most people open the door.”

Why is the response so little?

Hockenberry says it is most often fear that holds people back. He says people are often afraid they will be judged by their offer to help “as if if they say or do the wrong thing, I’m going to whip some 911 and get the disability police to come.” He goes on to explain that a person’s experiences and personality should be the first thing that people see when looking at someone with a disability.

Christopher Reeve adds that people should not shy away from possible awkward experiences just because someone is disabled. Take for example the simple act of shaking hands. “I’m not offended by that at all because it’s just a habit that they want to greet me. Anything that comes from a legitimate motivation to make contact is great,” Reeve said.

Where does this fear come from? It can come from a variety of sources.. Sometimes even family members. “I think a lot of the time, parents, adults don’t know, so they keep their children from learning.. because they don’t know and they ‘re scared,” said Danielle

To ask is always a better thing to do.

Let’s take a look back at the history of disabled people as well as efforts to ensure the rights of the disabled, shall we?

Originally, the disabled population was considered second rate in the United States. In fact, before 1975, there were no laws protecting the rights and freedoms of the disabled. The truth is, ensuring our rights is still sometimes difficult. In 1975, Congress passed the individuals with Disabilities Act. This law guarantees that all children, no matter what their physical or mental limitations have access to a free and public education. This includes any special equipment needed to encourage the learning process. But what about when you become an adult and start looking for a job? This is where the American With Disabilities come into play. This law ensures that people with disabilities have the same rights as someone else. Building accessibility is just one of the major issues discussed in this law.

In general, the theme of the show was patience and persistence during any difficult time. Here are just some of my favorite quotes from some wise youngsters.

Daneille: “We can do anything that anyone else can do. We just do it differently.”

Jon: “What I’ve got is what I’ve got and I think it’s much more interesting for me to make the most out of what I have been to think about something that may be possible sometime in the far future.”

Danielle: “You look at what you can do. You don’t dwell on what you can’t do.”

Christopher Reeve: “Whatever happens, you gotta press forward and not just say oh well this is the end. It’s never the end, you’ve gotta move forward,”

I think it is about time as the host said, to focus more on what we can do and what we can’t.

Citation for TV Program: “What Are You Staring at? , Nickelodeon channel 59 Detroit, at 6 a.m. , September 26, 2007. (Original air date: September 6, 2001)

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