Alliance for Person-Centered Accessible Technologies

an IGERT program developed by ASU & CSULB

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Via Patrick McGurrin

We are all innately curious. It moves us forward to discover new things about ourselves, and the world around us. How does it affect us?

It was curiosity that brought you here, the intrigue to click and read further. If you ask me, I would say we should embrace this this part of ourselves. It’s often what brings us to learn new things, meet new people, and have new experiences. You see my point that it isn’t always a bad thing. However, we must use this trait with some discretion. There is always a balance.

Ellen Seidman recently wrote a great piece about people who stare at others with disabilities. In her account, it was her son who was the center of such a scene, but let’s take a step back and look at the bigger issue. We see things around us, and often times we catch ourselves staring because we see something different or unexpected. If only we had a button we could press that could tell us all the facts about what we see. We could fill that void of confusion and uncertainty, and perhaps this knowledge would quell the urge to continue staring. But until we achieve that technological goal (maybe with Google glass we aren’t too far off), we may catch ourselves gawking just a bit too hard.

I think the staring that Ellen references in her article describes an issue that’s worth promoting. People don’t understand people with disabilities, or many other things for that matter. A person with a disability might use a wheelchair or some other assistive device. They might walk or talk in a manner that is unique, but they aren’t any different than you or I. One thing we know is that the word ‘disability’ has an ugly social attachment to it. It’s a word we may often avoid, if possible, rather than facing the issue head on. We embrace our social aversion with action, and in the hope of somehow learning through visual experience without getting caught, we stare. Perhaps what we need is the exact opposite. We (myself included) have much to learn, and there are positive ways to do so.

Once we start embracing this sort of mentality, we might feel more comfortable engaging in conversation rather than burdening others with our silent stares. It isn’t to say that we should blurt out a dozen questions to a stranger on the street, but rather to keep in mind that our stares aren’t always appreciated and there are alternative methods to appease our curiosity. We could use these moments as opportunities to start discussions, find answers, and with hope, start to negate this ongoing stigma attached to people with disabilities.

What I think it comes down to is respect. I think it’s a battle that we need to work together to win. The people who are staring ought to learn more about who or what they are staring at as a means to replace their rubbernecking in future encounters. As for the people who are witness to the stares, perhaps use the opportunity to strike up a brief conversation. Let’s not forget that we’re all human, and with hope we can all learn a bit more from each other.