I often wonder why it is that some people are just normally respectful and accepting of people with disabilities, and others act as if they will ‘catch’ something if they get too close to a child in a wheelchair. My family and I visited the State Fair yesterday, and I saw many of both types of people.

Is it ignorance that causes some people to shy away? Or, were these people raised in families and environments that fostered beliefs that anything different was bad? Have some people never been around others with disabilities (a situation I find difficult to believe), and therefore they are uncomfortable and don’t know what to say and do? Or is hatred and rejection just rooted deep in their souls?

Some of the people we encountered at the fair seemed to just naturally accept people with disabilities. I never saw the moment of hesitation in their eyes, the wondering of what to say or do. I didn’t see questioning stares or attempts to figure out what was ‘wrong’ with my child in a wheelchair. The State Fair can often have its share of unique individuals – both workers and guests – so maybe people with disabilities don’t stand out as much in such an environment.

Even as I pondered all these questions, I found my own beliefs and prejudices called to order. I never would have expected the multi-tattooed, multi-pierced young adult to be one of the people who would be accepting. But he was. He held a building door open for the family in front of me, and then continued holding it for my daughter and the rest of my family. He smiled slightly as I thanked him, and then he went along his way with nary a questioning or demeaning look in his eyes. Then there was the teenager working at one of the booths. Teenagers can often be the cruelest to other children with differences, so as we approached her booth, I held my breath. At the teenager’s booth was a spinning wheel. Based on where the spin stopped, the fair guest would be asked a question, and if they got it right, would be awarded a prize. Often at such booths, the workers assume my daughter just enjoys spinning the wheel. But the teenager yesterday took the spin seriously, asked my daughter a question about hurricanes (while I interpreted), and then didn’t seem the least bit surprised when my daughter answered the question correctly.

Perhaps continued modeling of full inclusion by my family – we never make assumptions about one’s ability to participate in everything the family is doing – will help change a few of those people who are uncomfortable. Perhaps when they see the joy, the camaraderie, the high expectations, and the reality of inclusion as a positive force in society, there will be more people like the teenager and tattoo/pierced young man. That is one of my many dreams for my children, both those with and without disabilities.

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