As someone who has spent a lot of time getting stared at because I use a wheelchair, I decided to use a academic way of identifying the three of stares I receive most often.
There is the “What kind of creature are you?” stare. This one dehumanizes the person with the disability. I just received this one not too long ago, and I will never forget it. My school aide asked a girl to move so I could get through the crowd of students. The girl wouldn’t move, so my aide asked a few more times. After a rude remark to my aide, she gave me the stare and moved. When she gave me “the look,” it made me feel like an undesirable insect.
Another form of staring is “The pity stare” which is usually followed by baby talk. This one typically comes from older people. I hate this one because it’s not like I regret every second of my life. Never have I felt sorry for myself. In fact, I enjoy living life to the fullest.
Last, and my favorite one, the “Oh my! I can’t believe her” aka “The Inspirational” stare. This one almost puts people in a trance. Typically, I get this from doing something people never thought I would be able to do, even if it’s the most basic thing. For example, going down a slide (even with my ventilator and tubes) or saying something sarcastic and funny or intelligent.
On the subject of stares, I’ve also spent a lot of time testing the proper reaction to these extreme gazes. Should I bat my eyelashes at the people who are staring? Blow a big spit/gum bubble at them? Give the people bug eyes? Politely say, “Excuse me, can you please stop staring?”
As a girl with a disability, it may be nerve wracking when a person stares at you. It’s terrifying for either gender really. In a girl’s mind however, it makes us more insecure about our bodies.
Some people with disabilities get really anxious when people stare at them. Kids stare hard. And long. And say mean things. But for some reason, kid stares bring out my patience and tolerance. Because I have SMA type 1 (spinal muscular atrophy), I need a ventilator to help me breath and a suction machine. Spinal muscular atrophy weakens all the muscles. One time coming out of a grocery store, a little kid stared at me. He kept asking his mom, “Why is that girl dead?” I’m assuming the boy had never seen someone with so much equipment. Sometimes, all you can do is laugh it off.
What I’ve learned is that the best way to end staring is to explain your disability. To some, this might feel too personal to share and I admit, it gets tiring, but I usually find that it’s worth it.
A tip for non-disabled people: it’s okay to talk to us, we don’t bite. Don’t be afraid to start up a conversation with us. And forgive us if we get a little sarcastic or snarky. My response, just like your stares, will depend on my personality and mood. I am a girl, after all. In the end, though, we are all humans who deserve kindness and respect.