Parents might think they're being polite to tell children not to stare at someone in a wheelchair but a recent TikTok video suggests a more inclusive option.

By Beth Ann Mayer
April 28, 2021
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An image of a girl with her dad who is in a wheelchair.
Credit: Getty Images.

About 25 percent of adults have a disability in the United States, according to the CDC. That's about 61 million people. Though it's common, children don't always know that. And they may have questions.

One TikTok user is helping parents answer them in a way that fosters inclusivity. Danilo Stankovic, who posts under the username @spencer2thewest on TikTok and is disabled, created a video with some do's and don'ts for talking about disabilities with your kids. It's received more than 1.7 million views in one day.

In the video, Stankovic imitates a child asking their father what's wrong with someone in a wheelchair. "Here's what not to do: 'Shhh. Don't say that. Stop staring,'" Stankovic says. "Instead, try this. [Say,] 'Nothing is wrong with him…They have a disability which just means they move and get around in different ways. You get around on your feet. They get around in a wheelchair.'"

Stankovic closes the video with two reminders: "Avoid using othering language and viewing disabilities as a tragedy," he advises parents.

Commenters appreciated the tips. "Great choice of words," one said. "As a father of a two-year-old, I often stress about questions like these. I want to make sure I'm teaching them well," another user wrote. "You're a great teacher for all of us," one user said.

Some users with disabilities, who have been on the receiving end of stares and "hushed" conversations, were especially grateful.

"Thank you. I am so tired of explaining to the parents that it's not rude to point out my disabilities, and shushing them is teaching them nothing," the TikToker commented. "I love this so much. I have a disability, so I can relate when the children stare, and the adults say, 'Stop staring,'" another wrote.

Though parents hushing their children who ask about disabilities don't mean any harm, the kid is often not trying to be rude. They're curious about a difference, and telling them not to stare sends a message that being disabled is embarrassing. Experts say that explaining that difference can normalize it and make children less likely to stare. Highlighting similarities, like that people in wheelchairs also move around even if it's different than your child, also emphasizes inclusivity.