Theo Braddy examines myths, stereotypes and assumptions about people with disabilities.
In 2006 Stephen Colbert introduced a new word to the American public; the word “truthiness”. It was quickly voted Merriam Webster’s Word of the Year in 2006. It is defined as, "truth that comes from the gut, not books" or"the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true".
People, who embrace “truthiness” according to Colbert, embrace ideas and issues that feel true to them. They are gut thinkers and they put forth their ideas, beliefs and policies regardless of the facts by asserting the defense that “that is how I see it. I have a right to my opinion and we will just have to agree to disagree.”
In other words, certain people will see or believe things to be true regardless of the real facts or evidence that clearly proves them wrong. The problem with truthiness in regard to people with disabilities is when decision makers or people within society make important decisions or take actions based on “truthiness,” misguided ‘beliefs’ or assumptions.
I have discussed this on many occasions with my students at Millersville University and it always turns into a great discussion.
For those of you who read my last blog, I know I promised to write about myths behind the word, “handicapped” and I will, eventually, but I believe you will benefit from this real life lesson as well.
The Great Escape
It was another sunny day. I had just driven my van to get an oil change to a repair station right on Paxton Street, near the East Mall. While waiting I thought I would ride over to Woody’s Workout. I was a member there and I knew many of my friends would be working out. So I am riding down Paxton Street on the side in my motorized wheelchair trying to avoid oncoming cars. Now, its Friday afternoon, so traffic is fairly busy on this two way street.
As I get closer to make my turn to go to Woody’s I see this lady on the other side of the street, right in front of this nursing home now called Spring Creek.
She started to look as though something was wrong and got very excited while looking in my direction. She went inside and then came running back out the door looking straight at me. Now remember I told you this is a busy street. However, to my surprise she ran toward me held up her hands like a traffic cop and stop traffic as she walked across to where I had now stopped. She came straight up to me while still holding up one hand and said, “ I am sorry, but you are not allowed out here you need to come with me right now and go back inside”. Now, I am a fairly quick minded guy but it took me a few seconds to wrap my mind around the fact that this lady believed me to be an escaped resident of the nursing home. I need you to imagine me sitting there now trying to convince this lady I wasn’t a resident but just a citizen riding down the street to Woody’s. Anyway, it took a minute or two but I finally convinced her I wasn’t escaping and she apologized in embarrassment and let me go on my merry way.
Myth #2: All persons who use wheelchairs are chronically ill or sickly and non-disabled people are obligated to "take care of" people with disabilities.
Reality: This is another one of those misguided assumptions nondisabled persons has about people with disabilities. People with disabilities go to school, get married, work, have families, do laundry, grocery shop, laugh, cry, pay taxes, get angry, have prejudices, vote, plan and dream like everyone else and yes, ride down the streets in their wheelchairs on occasions.
In my true Great Escape story, this lady is an example of “truthiness” at work. She bought into the myth and assumed that as a person with a disability I had to be a resident of the nursing home where she worked.
As a society we cannot hold onto to these myths, misbeliefs and assumptions about people with disabilities. It is a form of discrimination and is devastating to any efforts towards a more inclusive community.