Dr. Niamtu’s Weblog

….on cosmetic facial surgery

Why Do We Turn Away From People with Disabilities?

Last week, “The Greatest” Mohammed Ali threw out the first pitch of the season for the Miami Marlins.  This was a very noble act with one of the most recognized humans on the earth bestowing an honor for a great city and team.  The problem began when Ali was driven out to the mound on the back of a golf cart and the audience saw his condition.  The once muscular and bigger than life superstar was huddled over, very thin and unhealthy looking and flailing his arms uncontrollably.  He looked more like a nursing home patient in the last throes of life than the celebrity athlete.

Immediately, thousands of tweets went off about how inappropriate it was to show this man in this frail condition and what poor taste it was.  It was a very news worthy event that day.

Why does this happen and what does it mean?  There is a lot of discussion here and many people can weigh in on many opinions, but what can’t be disputed is that able bodied people frequently want to turn their heads when they see a severely disabled person in their space.  It has happened to all of us at some time, at a park, at a mall, when walking downtown, etc.  We see a disabled, maimed, contorted, crippled, individual and we look away.  Why do we do this?  Most of us don’t do it to be mean, but we do it because we are hurt about the unfairness of life and it pains us to see a fellow human in such distress.  Many do the same thing when stopping at an intersection and see a homeless person begging for money.  We look away because the sight disturbs us.  Some look away because they don’t want to contribute as well.

In any event, we “sterilize” our vision to eliminate unpleasant imagery.  We don’t want to see things that disturb us.  It may be a natural protection mechanism, but that does not make it right.  We need to condition ourselves to do the opposite.  We need to fight the urge to look away and we need to take a good look and embed the image into our minds.  We need to do this not only to remind ourselves how lucky able bodied people are, but to keep in mind how tough other people have it in life.  The next step we should do is to take a few seconds and approach these people and say a simple “hello” or ask them how they are doing.  Remember, these people are quite used to seeing people quickly turn away when they enter their line of sight.  Please remember that these people are in fact people.  A small chat with someone who is used to being shunned may be a huge boost in their happiness.  We, as a society, are used to sweeping unpleasant things under the rug and often times it is at the expense of others feelings.

We can become better people by accepting all types of people and not only looking at them, but also touching their life with a simple smile or chat.  It is sad that people were repulsed by the condition of “The Champ” as Ali is what he is.  He has severe Parkinson’s disease and that is what people with severe Parkinson’s look like.  It should not repulse us, we should not look away.  On the contrary, we should look directly at the person and look into their eyes and their heart.  We need to look into their lives and think about how they must differ from our lives.  This is a great impetus for us to get involved with causes like Parkinson’s, or the thousands of other conditions that strike people down in the prime of their lives.

I am the father of 9 and 12 year old sons with severe intellectual and physical disabilities.  I, at one time, was guilty of looking away as well.  It was just too painful for me to see disabled children.  Now, being in the middle of the situation, see things from a very different view.

We cannot and should not try to filter life by ignoring or turning away from those less fortunate.  I hope that this blog can inspire at least one person to change their behavior and next time they encounter a situation, they do the opposite.  When they see a person with a disability, they embrace the opportunity to be thankful for what they have and make an attempt to try and embrace the person in their view.  You never know where this can take you or the person you approach.

So, Mohammed Ali is very sick and not the athlete he once was.  Get over it, this is life.  He is our grandfather, our father and our brother.  He is one of the millions of disabled people in our society.  That is what life is, sometimes it is not pretty.  Sometimes it is sad, but it is still life.  Make it better!

Joe Niamtu, III DMD

Cosmetic Facial Surgery

Richmond, Virginia



April 8, 2012 - Posted by | People with disabilities | ,


  1. Wow, Dr. Joe great point, lesson learned I will adopt your advise. I will never look at a disabled person the same and I will try my hardest to look at a disabled person with acknowledgment. It does break my heart to see anyone disabled but you are right we can say a simple hello and not look the other way.

    Comment by Jerry | April 8, 2012 | Reply

    • Thanks Jer,

      You can bring a little sunshine to someone’s world.


      Comment by Dr. Joe Niamtu | April 9, 2012 | Reply

  2. Lane 6

    I work at a store. Lane 6 is the extra wide isle where wheel chairs and mortorized carts can get through easily. It’s a hard lane to work because it is always busy and one does a lot of extra lifting. But – it has become my favorite isle, and a favorite part of my day. Each day I see their smiles eminate from some spot on their bodies. They are so proud when we talk and they may count out a few coins, or hand me their item. I know some of their names, some give me hugs, others squil with delight that they made it through this phase and are on to pick up free papers. I sometimes get the occasional “straight” person behind them. I find they are one of two ways: comfortable and talkative, or stiff as a board with no body movement – eyes straight ahead, hands at their sides, no emotion showing what so ever. These are the people I feel sorry for. They don’t recognize the joy that surrounds them.

    Comment by Dianne | April 9, 2012 | Reply

    • Thanks Dianne,

      This is exactly the type of dialogue I had hoped to bring forth. People like you make this world better. Spread the word!

      Joe 🙂

      Comment by Dr. Joe Niamtu | April 9, 2012 | Reply

  3. What an insightful post………..and so true. But to consider THEIR point of view…………their experience……..their world – seldom enters our mind. How wonderful it can be to share your light with something as simple as a warm hello and a happy smile. Thanks Joe

    Dr. Kevin Light

    Comment by Dr. Kevin Light | April 9, 2012 | Reply

  4. Thank you very much for these great insights. In Papua New Guinea, disabled people are being hidden away because those families who have disable people don’t want to exposed them. For them it is very shameful so thats why they hide them, don’t give them opportunities to be educated and live amongst able people. We believe that to have a disable person in the family is a curse. Little by little we try our best to realise their potentials and what they can do as their contributions to this planet. I still believe in their potentials and gifts. Many are gifted in their own ways. They need to be educated and cared for. Let us not look at their disability but look at whwt they can offer to us. Thank you once again.

    Comment by Br Michael Pendekos MSC | May 8, 2012 | Reply

    • Thanks Michael,

      I know some countries are like this. Hopefully there will be changing attitudes by examples form others sharing love with these special people.


      Comment by Dr. Joe Niamtu | May 9, 2012 | Reply

  5. I have been homeless for 19 months and for the last 4 months I have been sleeping in my van on a military base. I had to sign over my teenage son to a foster family (whom we’ve known for several years) until I acquire employment and secure a home. Many, many people know about our predicament (especially those who attend church and participate in various organizations) and yet, they, too, have turned the other cheek. I don’t ask for handouts, but have been networking with people for employment. I would like to work for an outpatient facility and with my knowledge of computers, operating room skills and billing and coding, both my son and I are hoping I obtain a position so we can be together again and celebrate our birthdays and Christmas. I have never turned my back on those who are physically and/or mentally challenged, but seeing others turn their heads and ignore those in need hurts my heart. It isn’t our right to judge people……God doesn’t like ugly!

    Comment by Cindy Kureth | October 9, 2012 | Reply

    • Thank you Cindy,

      I am sorry to hear of your misfoutune, but you sound like a tough and persistent person. I know that you will get through this and I hope when you do you can help other with similar misfortunes. You are correct that some some people can truly be ugly.

      Dr. Joe 🙂

      Comment by Dr. Joe Niamtu | October 9, 2012 | Reply

  6. Dear Joe

    Great Blog. Thank you for your insight. The world needs more people like what you have turn into.

    Way to go Joe. Thank you for your website and Blog. Thank you for not looking the other way.

    Autism, Ataxia, ALS, MS and Parkinson’s are all things that have affected my life and those around me. Another is dementia. My father is a WWII vet who has demntia. His caregiver is my mother who has it rougher than he does. My dad cannot remember what happened 5 seconds ago but he still knows what it means when someone tells him – I Love You.

    Happy Valentine’s Day. Keep spreading the joy of life in all it’s forms.

    Best to you and your family.

    BIll Hassett

    Comment by Bill Hassett | February 14, 2013 | Reply

    • Wow, thanks Bill,

      My father is also a WWII Vet, they gave so much, truly the greatest generation. Dementia is truly a sad disease and your mother is a hero for takeing care of him. Very emotional that he still understands “I love you”. I hope you tell him that frequently. Thanks for you heartfelt comments and you made me reflect on this issue today, thank you.


      Comment by Dr. Joe Niamtu | February 14, 2013 | Reply

  7. Thank you. We all need to speak out for our loved ones. I work with kids with severe autism, multiple disabilities, all ranges. I am 55, and all of my life I have heard ” you are so patient” and watched others come to a complete awkward halt in conversation , or look away when near a child who is less than typical.

    I searched your website looking for someone who could do something with lasers for my malar festoons (probably have them for life). But instead found someone who blogs a voice advocating for the humanity in all of us.

    Great dad award. Best to you and your boys.

    Comment by Laura Glaser | January 26, 2014 | Reply

    • Thank you very much and I am glad that you follow the same path. Also, would be glad to treat your festoons.

      Dr. Joe

      Comment by Dr. Joe Niamtu | January 26, 2014 | Reply

      • Dr. Niamtu, I would like to know if you have any positions in your clinic. I am a a Registered Nurse with several years of OR experience. My number is 804-297-8969. Thank you, Cindy Kureth

        Date: Mon, 27 Jan 2014 01:44:58 +0000 To: giftedoneboy@hotmail.com

        Comment by Cindy Kureth | January 26, 2014

  8. Thank you, Dr. Joe, for a wonderful and necessary post. I really think that the full measure of any society is how it cares for it’s most helpless members. I am retired from working 29 years in child welfare and believe me, I have seen it all. So many times, others would comment that they didn’t know how I could do such sad work. I always replied that I felt blessed to work with abused, neglected and special needs children. I have learned that you can’t really value life unless you accept and embrace it fully……and that necessarily includes pain and suffering, illness, disability and death. But, I don’t need to tell you that; you have lived it. God bless you and your family.

    Comment by Mary Harding | June 16, 2016 | Reply

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