By Daniel J. Vance


Last week a free-lance writer called. She was penning an article for the Spina Bifida Association of America newsletter, I believe, and wanted to know if I felt left out as a parent because my wife was the primary caregiver of our child with a disability.

I can't remember exactly what I told the lady, but I do remember thinking how odd it was that she would think parenting a child with a disability was that much different from parenting a non-disabled child. Fathers with non-disabled children often feel left out, too.

If I hadn't previously agreed to, and known the good purpose of the interview, I might have been mildly upset at her question. This wasn't the first time I'd been treated as if I were different from the rest of the world, all because I had a child with a disability.

If you are a caregiver for a person with a disability, you know what I'm talking about.

Recently, at a grocery near our southern Minnesota home, an elderly man handed my wife a dollar and told her to give it to our wheelchair-using daughter. He intimated that he felt bad for her. My wife put the dollar in the Salvation Army bucket.

At a public event a few years ago, three separate times different youngsters asked me, "What's wrong with her?" Each spoke to me while my wheelchair-using daughter was within earshot.

We have received free food and toys from business owners because they felt sorry for my daughter. At a fair last year I had to plead with a vendor to take our daughter's money for two corndogs. (The vendor wanted her to have them free.) While I understand these people are trying to be compassionate, their compassion could lead our daughter to expect handouts.

If you'd like to learn the various ways people with disabilities (and their caregivers) prefer to be treated, Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association has an excellent free publication entitled "Disability Etiquette."

In a nutshell, they suggest: relax and be yourself; shake hands and treat a person with a disability as you would any other person; talk directly to them, not to their attendant; if they use a wheelchair, sit down and talk on their level; and talk about anything they have knowledge in areas beyond their disability. Learn more at www.epva.org.

[Contact Mr. Vance at www.danieljvance.com. Copyright 2002 by Daniel J. Vance.]