Explaining Disability to Children

Explaining disability to children, Gem Turner

One of my most read blog posts is one where I talk about parents reacting towards me as a wheelchair user when they’re with their children. This is something that we don’t really talk about because you don’t really prepare for it – then it happens and we all carry on with our day. But actually, these situations have lasting effects for not just the disabled person, but your child too. So I thought I’d expand on my last post and share tips on how to tackle talking about disability to children…

Don’t avoid it

In my last post about this topic, I mentioned parents DRAGGING their children to get me out of their eye line. The fact is, some people are disabled and you will meet disabled people. Every. Single. Day. You can’t drag a child away from every disabled person you meet (you probably won’t even realise a lot of disabled people as there are statistically more “non visibly” disabled people than there are visible).  As much as you may think you’re avoiding “a situation”, you’re actually just creating one.

Less is more

In some situations, they may not need a massive explanation. Once a young girl said, “mummy look at that lady” and I heard “yes she’s in a wheelchair isn’t she, shall we go for our lunch now?”. I honestly don’t think the parent was “distracting” so to speak, but she just acknowledged and moved on. I smiled and wondered what they would have for lunch…

It’s what you say and HOW you say it

As I suggested in my last post about this, children are very good readers of situations. So when you’re explaining something, they don’t just listen – they watch, observe and copy. If you are nervous about a situation, they will be too. I know that’s why so many grown adults are nervous to say hello to me.

Learn more about disability yourself

I imagine you read the last one and thought, how am I supposed to change how I react? And the simple answer for me, is to educate and familiarise yourself. If you’re a bit nervous, it’s probably because it’s the unknown. There are so many ways you can learn about disability now, whether that’s through articles, blogs and YouTube videos.

Be honest

Now, I’m not living in a fantasy world. I know it’s not going to go “mummy, look at that lady”, you say “yes she’s in a wheelchair” and then you skip along to the end of the rainbow.

Children ask QUESTIONS, I know, I was one of them. So if your child is interested and wants to know more, that’s brilliant. But what I would say is don’t make up some random story to cover your back, if you’re not quite sure about the answers – be honest. There are so many impairments out there, it’s impossible to know the details of every one. It’s not a negative thing if you don’t know the answers, but it is if you make something up that then that child will remember, question and feel uncertain about.

Disability is not a bad word

And finally, the reason why I think people don’t know what to say around disability is because they associate it with “bad” or “hard” or even worse, “suffering”. But disability is honestly for a lot of people, something to be proud of. I can’t speak for everyone because people will obviously have different experiences. But for me, my disability is a huge part of me – it’s my genetics and I honestly wouldn’t change a thing. The only thing I would change if I could, is the way people a lot of react towards me.

I can’t do that – but you can.


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To the families I meet with disabled children

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