What should you do if your child yells at a disabled person?

Is disability going mainstream? From our comfortable space on Instagram, it’s easy to imagine most people get it – that asking disabled strangers intrusive questions isn’t the best plan. Because we’ve been talking about this for a while. And everyone seems on board.

But a few weeks ago a large Instagram account – big little feelings, teamed up with Ashley of Disability Reframed. Mainstream parenting advice met disability activism, and sparks flew. It felt hugely positive and very worthwhile – significant, even. But there was pushback, as there always is when people are made to feel uncomfortable. And that pushback has been fascinating to see.

We both spent time reading comments on the posts and of course this kept coming up – what to do when your child asks a loud question about a disabled person? 

Some disabled people shared quite how distressing they can find these questions. A few said they welcomed questions, and we have absolutely no argument with them. 

What confused us was this – the parents saying “it’s impossible to stop kids making embarrassing comments! We mustn’t stifle their curiosity” – as though what’s being asked is impossibly complicated. 

But what do they do when their child makes an embarrassing comment about literally any other person? 

As parents we negotiate these situations already – whether it’s a bald man, a pregnant woman, someone with a nose piercing. 

Literally just… do that. The same thing you do with all these other people. 

It’s good to be reminded that this is a comfortable bubble – a large number of people still do not expect a real life disabled person to be telling them about disability. Nobody likes to be told they’ve been wrong, and “just ask!” is still the status quo. But lots of people are listening, too. 

Lucy & James Catchpole

What Happened To You? – James’s book – is available here from our local bookshop, Blackwells. They deliver internationally.

Or if you’d like to support what we do, we have affiliate links to Bookshop UK and Bookshop US – where you can buy most of the books on our KidLitCripCrit list.

[Image descriptions:

  1. Lucy & James are outside – Lucy’s sitting in her wheelchair and James has a prosthetic leg strapped on over his clothes. We look suspiciously young – the photo is a couple of years old. You can just about see that Lucy is pregnant. A 3 year old Mainie stands between us looking sun-kissed and happy. We’re white with brown hair, Mainie’s looks blonde. Images 2 to 9 have this same photo as background. And text is on a background of cream torn paper on all images. It reads: What should you do if your child yells at a disabled person? (You probably already know the answer…) 
  2. Text reads: What should you do if your child yells at A PERSON?
  3. What should you do if your child shouts WHY DOES THAT MAN HAVE NO HAIR?
  4. You probably don’t… •Ask the man why he has no hair. •Send your child over to ask. •Worry that without asking, you’re not educating your child about hair loss.
  5. You’d probably mouth “sorry!”, tell your child we all look different but we shouldn’t shout personal questions at people, and move on. (Which works! Just apply it to disabled people, too.)
  6. See also: asking pregnant women how the baby got in their tummy. (I was actually pregnant here – it was a while ago.)
  7. So we really are just asking for the same level of privacy & common courtesy as everyone else. 
  8. We’re NOT trying to police other disabled people’s responses – if you’re comfortable answering questions that’s great. 
  9. We ARE asking that every disabled person is not expected to provide teachable moments on tap. 
  10. Most of all, disabled kids are not teachable moments.  Let them play. Unlike the other images, this is of a pile of books – James’s picture book What Happened To You? A one-legged white child stands on a swing on the front cover, winking under the title. It’s by James Catchpole & illustrated by Karen George. Published by Faber.]

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