Have you ever been stared at? When it happens to me, I wonder if something is out of place, like my hair or maybe something worse. But if you have a disability that’s obvious, or if you’re walking with someone who does, the stare may register more intensely, stirring deep emotions.
A recent op-ed in The New York Times about “the stare” stirred me up a bit. It was enjoyable to read, but it got me thinking about two points. The stare may signal an out of sight-out of mind mentality. This is reflected in people who are not interested in becoming more aware. For example, despite the increased acceptance of disabilities, inadequate knowledge among medical professionals and first responders may suggest that same disinterest in awareness.
But stares can also reflect interest. The person staring may be reminded of an incidence in his or her life, and perhaps they are open to an interaction. You can treat a stare as an opportunity to connect and educate.
The headline of the op-ed got me thinking, too. We teach best with specific stories, but this story is part of a larger truth. I thought the headline in this case should have been “Parents of Kids with Disabilities, etc.” and avoided the specific reference to the stare altogether. The subject of the story, Sophie, is identified early as someone who “has Down syndrome” and the photo makes that clear. But the truth in the story applies equally to many other disabilities, including cerebral palsy, autism, and Williams syndrome.
These are all relevant to our broader community. The larger truth may not be as personal, as deep, and surely not as emotional as when one thinks of their particular loved one or friend. But to advance significantly, we need to advance as a community for each other.
Leo V. Sarkissian