After reading our previous post "Kids say the darndest things," someone on Facebook asked what she should tell her kids when they have a question about someone using a wheelchair. While we aren't trying to tell you how to parent your children, we have a few suggestions of how to deal with the situation.
First of all, encourage your children to ask questions. Most people will welcome the opportunity to talk with your child and explain his/her disability. Those that don't want to discuss it are usually polite about declining to share. The best thing you can do as a parent is talk to your kid about how to phrase their questions. A great way to ask is "Why do you use a wheelchair?" instead of "why can't you walk?" or "what's wrong with you/them?" For one thing, it may not be the case for everyone that they use a chair because they can't walk. Asking why we use a wheelchair doesn't imply anything negative, makes no assumptions, doesn't imply that a greater disability than visible exists, doesn't magnify the situation, and doesn't imply that there's something wrong with using a wheelchair.
If your children are too scared to approach a wheelchair user, you can explain that they use it to help them get around because they may have trouble walking. This could stem from an accident, a condition they're born with, or maybe a disease, among other causes. Do not assume that all wheelchair users are paralyzed, or cannot walk at all. Also don't make assumptions that they have only been temporarily injured, like a broken leg. This is often inaccurate, and the last thing you want is to misinform your kids.
As wheelchair users, it feels awkward to be stared at, and being asked questions makes you feel human (not like an exhibit in a zoo). This also gives us a chance to educate them so when they grow older they can educate others, and view wheelchair users as an accepted part of their community just like everybody else.