I get stared at a lot. Yes, I am crazy, sometimes silly and usually loud, but that doesn’t make people stare. People are usually staring at me because I am accompanying someone who has some form of physical and/or developmental disability. That’s right, people are never staring at me, they are staring at the person I am supporting.
Here is the kind of staring I am talking about: A prolonged gaze or fixed look. In staring, one object or person is the continual focus of visual interest, for an extended amount of time. Sometimes there is a head tilt, sometimes shakes of pity, but a positive message never seems to come across to me when we are getting stared at.
The problem is, this type of staring isn’t seen as interest, it is seen as ignorance and rudeness to the person being stared at. Sometimes people stare so long, I have to stand in front of them or get to their eye level to break their gaze. Nobody says hi, they just stare. I have even seen people crook their necks to the side to stare at one of my clients. I am not sure why it is so intense, but have you never seen a wheelchair, person using a wheelchair or someone with a form of disability???
I know people are curious and they don’t understand. Sometimes people don’t know what a person with a disability looks like or are interested in their gestures and movements. It is very new to some people and that is okay, but staring is rude in general anyway!
Children, I can understand. They are still learning and we as adults have to teach them compassion for all people and that everyone is different. If I see a child staring, I get to their level, catch their gaze and say “hi.” This cues my client to smile, look or say hi themselves. If my client can’t do any of those things, I become their smile and kindness extender (if that makes sense). This way, I try to make a connection between the child and the I am supporting. Parents, please encourage your children to say “hi” and ask questions. I have an answer for every awkward question your child may have and you’d be surprised what children ask sometimes.
Adults, I have less patience for. I think sometimes they think I don’t see them or the person they are staring at doesn’t see it, but my guys always see it. I will catch the gaze of an adult staring and say hi, but very rarely do they say hi back or they look the other way right away. Some look at me and still continue to stare, as if it is their right. I would hope that they know better, that I am trying to stop them from staring. Some do, some don’t.
I was on the train with a client the other day. The two young women across from us were being stared at by someone else. They hated it; they had to ask the lady to stop staring at them. They then looked at my client and I and asked, “why is she staring at us?”
“I don’t know people are curious…and nosey.”
It was interesting to share that moment with two girls who may or may not have stared at us in a different situation.
Now I am just complaining. I guess what I really wish for, is that parents teach their children to say hi to others. Take cues from your children; they will teach a lot about being different and acceptance. If you are an adult and you are curious, looking is okay. But please, no bad looks, cut eye or pity head shaking, it makes us feel bad. Also, please smile and say hello, being friendly is always contagious and you will be met with friendliness.