A couple years ago, I walked into our youth room on a Sunday morning using my favorite pink cane. Using all kinds of different mobility aids isn’t unusual for me, and after five years of fairly smooth sailing with this group of kids, I thought we had this kind of thing down. Unfortunately, I was asked three times that morning “What’s wrong with you? Are you crippled?” by different students. To say I was shocked was an understatement!
To some people, those words and questions may not be a big deal. To me, and to a lot of others who live with a disability, it is. Those words can be hurtful, sometimes striking in a super sensitive spot. Now, because I adore working with students and have for a while now, I didn’t see these as insults and instead as a teaching opportunity.
Students are awkward with everyone, regardless of disability or normality. There’s an added awkwardness when they encounter a situation they haven’t ever had to navigate, and I find that a lot of students haven’t encountered those with disabilities. The students who asked me those things weren’t being mean- if fact, their intention was the opposite! They were curious and maybe even a little worried about me, and I didn’t miss that fact. They just genuinely didn’t know that those aren’t things you say to someone who is having a hard time walking.
How we speak to and treat others is a reflection of Jesus in us, so we should strive to treat others with respect and love. I desperately want my students to be a mirror of the gentle and humble Jesus who spent time with people, no matter what they were struggling with. Whether they encounter someone on a mission trip or have a student with a disability in their classroom, I hope they can make everyone feel respected and welcomed.
So, in the endeavor of helping raise decent human beings who love Jesus and others, let’s teach them about disabilities and etiquette around them. Here are some resources I’ve put together that you can use however you like!