Friday, April 18, 2014


How old were you when your mama told you not to stare at people that were "different?"  She did tell you that, didn't she?  It seems to be something most kids are told when they are young.

There is a difference between "not staring" and looking away, avoiding making eye contact, pretending not to see.  There is a difference between teaching a child not to stare (and certainly not to point at someone that is different in some way) and pulling the child away, covering their eyes, acting as if the sight of someone different might hurt them somehow.

People with physical disabilities, those in wheelchairs and those with significantly noticeable physical differences, have told me stories of parents grabbing their children, literally covering children's eyes, yelling at their kids not to look, things like that.  Which I think is as bad as staring.  It's bad for the person with the disability and it's bad for the child, because it teaches the child that difference is something to fear, to avoid.

There are better ways for parents to handle a child's interest in someone or something that is different.  One person who uses a wheelchair, a bright blue chair, told me how one mother, upon noticing her daughter looking, said, "Isn't that a beautiful blue chair?"  How awesome is that?  She acknowledged her daughter's interest in seeing something different and instead of acting like being different was scary or shameful, called it beautiful.

Another person who uses a wheelchair told me how a mother, noticing her son looking, said, "That looks a lot like your aunt's chair, doesn't it?"  Which is also awesome.  She drew a connection between someone different-looking and a person the child knew and loved.  Suddenly the wheelchair wasn't so strange anymore, and neither, I imagine, was the person in it.

But it's understandable, to me, that kids would look at something that was different and unusual, something they aren't used to seeing.  I think adults should know better.

People stare at you when you go places with a service dog.  Well, they stare at the dog more than they stare at the person, I think.  But when the dog is right next to the person, they are pretty much staring at both.  And sometimes, they do stare at the person, too.  Maybe they are trying to figure out why you have a service dog.  I'm not sure.

Now, I don't mind if something notices my dog, looks at him briefly, maybe smiles at him.  I think that's kind of nice.  I mean, you're going to notice a dog in a place you don't normally see a dog, like a restaurant or grocery store.  And I like it that people generally seem to like seeing Isaac.  They usually smile when they notice him.  He's cute, he looks friendly, people like seeing him.  That's good.

But staring is different.  Especially staring that comes with pointing.

Mostly I ignore it.  Some days it bothers me more than others.  Yesterday at the thrift store it was really bothering me for some reason.

There was a kid, maybe 11 or 12, shopping with an older woman, maybe his grandma.  They were at one end of a long aisle, Isaac and I were at the other end.  The kid saw Isaac and wanted to point him out to his grandma.  And he literally pointed.  And stared.  And both turned their heads to keep looking as Isaac and I walked by them.  I thought it was rude.  I thought the grandma should have told him not to point at people.

Then when we were waiting in line to pay, there was a woman in line in front of us.  She was so busy staring at us that she didn't notice when the line moved.  The person in front of her finished paying and she was still just standing there, staring, until the cashier called out to her to get her attention.  I thought she was being rude, too.

I realize that going out in public with a service dog is going to attract some attention.  I just don't like being stared and pointed at.

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