On Becoming Friends With a Non-Disabled Person
Vector cartoon illustration of Positive two young women communication with each other and laughing on funny stories during break in university. Cheerful friends having fun

It helps to be friendly, considering that I’m stared at almost everywhere I go. I was born with cerebral palsy, a physical disability that affects my legs and forces my knees inward when I walk. When I reach for a dress at Target, an apple at a farmers market, or a paperback at a bookstore, I readily notice non-disabled strangers holding their gaze on my gait. I register a mix of fear, confusion, and pity in their eyes right before they meet mine, and the second that they do I smile and say hello. I don’t always make this choice, and this situation isn’t the standard meet-cute of my friendships. But when I match that stare with a greeting, most strangers soften and small talk. It makes me feel like I’m no longer on display.

“I’m sorry you have to do that,” my oldest friend said to me recently about this habit, for the 1,000th time. We call it being a disability spokesperson. Ever since we met at recess in the fourth grade, she’s witnessed how the world treats disabled people differently.

To be disabled and to care about a disabled person is to grasp all the ways in which the world was designed for non-disabled bodies. It’s why people stare, after all. Staring is a silent reminder of how the disabled community has been systematically discriminated against for generations: it’s an Othering spark that can either lead to an upsetting escalation or a diffusing hello. Even 30 years after the passing of the Americans With Disabilities Act, we are still mocked, forced, or killed out of public life. This occurs from childhood to adulthood, and affects our access to education, our ability to secure housing, our chances at gainful employment, and our right to “do no harm” healthcare. The ADA recognizes disability in the eyes of the law, not in those of society.

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  1. Hello everyone,

    My name is Clarissa and I’m a research coordinator at UC, Berkeley and I wanted to share my deep appreciation for the Caregiver Space. Thank you for creating a community for people who are under-served and under-represented. My team and I are currently conducting a study on in-home assistive technology and we provide a link to your website as a “mental health resource” to our participants.

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    I’ve been working with caregivers for over a year and I’ve learned so much from them. I know how much they want to be seen and how much they want to be provided for too. If you’re interested in joining over 300 caregivers who are already participating in our research, please visit us at https://research.presencefamily.com/


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