For people with disabilities staring comes as part of the package

No amount of staring would ever stop me from being me (picture courtesy of Josephine Bridges)
No amount of staring would ever stop me from being me (picture courtesy of Josephine Bridges)

A Staring Contest

I recently was asked how many people look at me, now I've had the amputation, and it got me laughing. I laughed mostly because I hadn't actually noticed. I'd spent eleven years with a tremendous set of scars on my left leg and a deformed knee which I quite happily displayed in skirts, shorts etc. I also spent a lot of time with sticks or in wheelchairs, all of which garnered a large amount of attention. I think I'd gotten so used to it by this point that I didn't see any difference post-amputation, I'd never thought to calculate the numbers. Staring never really bothered me in the first place, I was always of the mindset that no amount of staring would ever stop me from dressing or being the way I wanted. Whilst they saw me very clearly, I began to see them less and less, until eventually starers became invisible to my eye.


Shy Starers, Pointers And All Out Lookers

As a disabled person staring comes as part of the package, after a while you can even begin to categorise them; the shy starers who just keep peeping out the corner of their eye, the pointers who think they are being discreet when they turn their friends attention our way, the all out lookers who have absolutely no qualms in gawping, mouth open and then the children who can't quite work out if your a super hero or a robot.


It can be a tough issue. Online there are campaigns with slogans such as 'don't stare, ask'. However these are contentious in there own right with a number of disabled people not wanting to be questioned by strangers when they nip out for a loaf of bread. I've often wondered if it needs to be a system; if you stare, and we smile back, we are open for questioning, if we don't smile and try to hide, maybe now isn't the right time for a quiz on our health.


The thing that has to be asked is 'would you stare?'. Pre-disability or in another life could you really say, you you wouldn't peek? and if you did say yes, why would you stare? 


I've asked a few people; friends, family, strangers and myself; 'why do you look?' 

In most cases the answers were out of curiosity or kindness. They look; because they hope we are okay; because they are wondering what happened; because they want to know how people manage. They look out of awe at how well that person is coping or because they think medical science and technology is amazing (wheelchairs, false limbs and so on).


Since I've been writing this article, I've paid closer attention to the starers, and there have been a lot. I've also listened in, listened to the comments passed between people and even peered at a starers text as they stood next to me in the bank. They correlate with the above. I've heard "wow, she’s doing so well", "I've never seen an amputee before", "her leg is so cool" and "isn't technology amazing".


In four weeks I heard one negative comment.



Sticking Out From The Crowd

Ultimately, most disabled people are an anomaly, not a bad anomaly or a good anomaly just, an anomaly. For example, my sister has long, thick, curly ginger hair and I would say she garners as much staring as I do, from all walks of life. People are interested, they ask questions such as 'do you dye it?' 'has it always been that thick' and she’s even had a lady touch it in a lift without question (totally not OK). It’s not out of insult, or compliment, it’s just because it’s different. It's our nature as humans to spot whats different, it helps us survive.


Of course, our differences should never affect how we are treated or respected. None of this makes it okay to bully, to point and laugh or make jokes, but is looking really that bad. Often, when unwanted attention is placed upon us, we reflect our own insecurities onto people. If it wasn't our disability would it be 'are they looking at my spot?' or 'is my shirt sticking out?'.  The question we have to ask ourselves is, do we stare at differences and what are we thinking? When go down the street and look at people, even dare I say 'stare', are you thoughts horrible? or are they caring, curious or intrigued? 


It is this question that can help break down our worries of staring. If we could put ourselves in the feet of the starers and ask, 'would we stare, and why?' we might begin to break down the insecurities that surround us and ultimately, make the the staring invisible. To be disabled is to be different, and to be different is to stand out, you may as well give them something wonderful to stare at.


"Our greatest strength, as a human race, is our ability to acknowledge our differences. Our greatest weakness is our failure to embrace them!" -  Judith Henderson 



Guest post by Josephine Bridges. Josephine is a 28 years old bone cancer survivor who, in October 2018, opted to have her leg amputated following years of surgery and complications. Josephine has always been very active and so she is embracing her new life as an amputee with excitement and hope for the future. You can follow her on Instagram and support her through her GoFundMe campaign.

Further Reading

Desire to have a child as an amputee

(amputee parenthood special I)


Today we start with another special. A series of articles dedicated to a one special topic, one specific challenge or one impressive person. And this week it’s all about being an amputee parent. Even without a limb difference, the idea of suddenly being responsible for a child can be daunting. Immense joy is regularly mixed with feelings of fear and being completely overwhelmed. Often even more so if you are an amputee. So throughout the course of this week we hear from four amputees, learning about their thoughts on parenthood. Jasmin, a young women from Germany with an above knee amputation - and a regular contributor to The Active Amputee - kicks-off our Spring Special. read more

Pregnancy after surviving an avalanche

(amputee parenthood special II)


Joanna lost her leg in a mountaineering accident. She has what is called a Chopart amputation. That means that she has retained a load- bearing heel bone and heel pad. However, due to a needed shortening her amputation presents as a Symes (which is an amputation through the heel bone). Joanna can walk short distances without a prosthesis. Only a few years after her accident, Joanna is expecting her first child. In this personal article she shares her experience of being pregnant while still getting used to her new life as an amputee. read more

Oh baby, we are going to have kids

(amputee parenthood special III)


Oh no! This can’t be right! I looked at the positive home pregnancy test again. Come on, make that color change some more. I sat still for a while and waited. Pregnancy was not on my list of things to do right now. Nine months earlier I’d lost both legs above the knee and my right arm just below the shoulder in a train vs car accident. I learned to walk with prostheses using a quad cane and was planning to move back to Los Angeles where I would live by myself and finish the last nine months of my Radiology residency. My thump-thud, toy-soldier walk was loud and looked funny but got me where I needed to go. Doing things with one hand was becoming easier. But am I ready for a pregnancy? read more