Daddy Bent-Legs by Neil Matheson (read review) and How We Roll by Tim Wambach (read review) brings the misconception “different means wrong” to light. As a kid Matheson recalls getting asked “So, what’s wrong with you?” often. The crutches Matheson walks with due to his cerebral palsy usually triggered the question. Such a question from an innocent, curious kid proves acceptable but Daddy Bent-Legs reveals Neil use to get that exact question mostly from adults. Matheson explains “This awkward phrase is uttered mostly by adults, not children. No, young children don’t ask vague questions. They are a lot more direct. Kids ask things like, ‘Why do you have to walk with those sticks?’”
In How We Roll Tim Wambach delves into the cause for the “different means wrong” misconception when discussing a trip to the mall with his friend Mike Berkson. Pushing Mike’s wheelchair Tim observes a young child point to Mike and ask his mother “Mommy, what’s the matter with him?” The kid’s mother hushed her child and told him “It’s not polite to stare and point.” Wambach reflects on the experience with the following thoughts.
“Somehow we are preconditioned, perhaps by parents who chide our curiosity, to judge appearances. If only that mom would have smiled and told her pointing child ‘Yes dear, that boy has a blue shirt just like yours.’ how different an impression she’d have made.”
Now to be fair, the idea “different means wrong” extends beyond disabilities to life in general. Imagine you’re in a room with 99 other people. You need to answer “2 + 2.” Obviously you write down four but then you learn everyone else in the room writes down three. You start second guessing your answer, don’t you? Why? A minute ago you held complete confidence in your sum. However, since your response differs from everyone else you begin to wonder “Did I miss something? Perhaps I should go against my own logic and change my answer.” DON’T! Two plus two does equal four and different doesn’t always mean wrong. Please keep that in mind next time you see somebody with a disability.