child sitting in a wheelchair plays on a playground

Last week, we brought JB to an inclusive playground to kick off his first day of school vacation. It is one of our family’s favorite places to spend an afternoon: An accessible playground with activities for children with visual impairments, low muscle tone, mobility aids, and more.

So imagine my surprise when I heard two little girls begin looking at JB (who was stimming excitedly) and talking.

“Why’s he moving like that?” the younger one asked.

“There’s something wrong with him,” the older one said. 

I did not approach them, or use this as a teachable moment, for many reasons I don’t need to go into here. Rather, I continued playing with my family, praying my child did not hear the comments. I also got some mint chocolate chip ice cream.

I sat with my thoughts over the next day and then wrote out what I wish I had said to these young girls and any adults that were there with them at the playground. I wanted to share it here with you, readers, in case it helps you see things a bit differently or answer questions if you hear a child ask innocent questions or an adult give ableist answer. 

There’s something wrong with him.


There’s something wrong with an ableist society telling us different is undesirable, refusing to reflect disability accurately in the media.

There’s something wrong with parents keeping their children isolated and ignorant, convinced that disability is somehow contagious or will take away from their own child’s experience.

There’s something wrong with religious leaders presenting disability as a punishment for sin, or a problem needing to be prayed away or fixed.

There’s something wrong with lawmakers banning social-emotional learning (SEL) and diversity-equity-inclusion (DEI) programs, especially in schools.

There’s something wrong with healthcare systems denying members the mobility and assistance devices they so desperately need at prices they can afford, resulting in many disabled people remaining out of sight. 

But as for my son? No, there isn’t “something wrong with him.” Different does not mean wrong. We need to do better to remember this.

(Photo credit: author)

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