“Questions don’t hurt, ignorance does.” I just heard this powerful one-liner on an episode of “The Facts of Life”, to which one of my Facebook friends posted a link. This episode, from around 1980, claims to be the first sit-com episode featuring a character with Cerebral Palsy. The character is very interesting, a comedian and a relative of one of the series regulators. She delivers somewhat dated one-liners about CP.
A little later on, when Tootie is posing a question, she struggles to find a word to refer to the CP. The actress, who actually has CP, says “you can say handicapped, it’s on all the parking signs”. The episode proceeds to tell a lovely story about jealousy and family, chock full of 1980s goodness. It is on these quotes, however, that I wish to focus.
“Questions don’t hurt, ignorance does.” How true.
It’s 34 years later, and yet there is still so much people don’t know. They see me, with my funny hands or my power wheelchair, and I’m certain that they have questions. I know it because it comes out in actions that reflect a lack of knowledge.
I love the children. I love that they will come and ask me anything. I’m frustrated by the parents who are flabbergasted by their children’s apparent imposition and don’t want me to answer.
I like nothing better than answering their questions. Children have questions about everything. Children have questions about what they see on TV. Children have questions about what they see on the street. Children have questions about their grandfather’s age spots.
Why shouldn’t children have questions about me?
I’m outside of their realm of experience. I am something new about which they can learn. I want them to learn so that they know, so that I become part of their worldview on what is normal, so that I become something within their experience when they have the deal with the other people with disabilities as they grow.
In fact, I wish adults would ask. I wish anyone who wishes to know something about me or my disability would simply ask. Don’t worry about the words, for whatever you call me, I’ve heard it. As the character said, when I was a kid, handicapped was on the parking signs. Further, as I have written before, I’m not terribly concerned about language, just intent.
“Questions don’t hurt, ignorance does.”
Certainly, understand people's boundaries. Try to pose questions to a friend, rather than a stranger. Try to make sure that your friend is willing to answer. (People with disabilities reading this post, I encourage you to think about how you could make it better for us all by being willing to answer.) Ask with respect, even if you don’t know precisely the right words.
Honestly, if you do not know who else to ask, [email](mailto:email@example.com) and ask me. I hope that everyone asks questions. I hope that everyone seeks to learn the realities of disability. Because questions don’t hurt, but ignorance, that hurts us all.