Theo Braddy examines myths, stereotypes and assumptions about people with disabilities.
As a society, we can remove physical barriers and, eventually, I believe we will have a community removed of physical barriers, and people with diverse disabilities will be free to come and go. However, I am not that optimistic when it comes to attitudinal barriers faced by people with disabilities. Any significant change in removing attitudinal barriers will require a conscious effort to change the way we think and behave. Let me share a real life example of what I mean.
The Missing Piece of the Puzzle
A few days ago I received a call from a great colleague of mine who has been fighting for many years for the equality of all persons who have been denied their basic civil rights. He is a person whom I personally respect for all the good he has done. He called to tell me he was recently invited to a major community meeting that is calling for major community action that will require input from all backgrounds to ensure all of its citizens are represented. My friend and civil rights leader shared with me that as he looked around the room he saw that this group was in fact well represented from persons of all backgrounds and cultural diversity. He cited them to me and I agreed with his assessment. He then went on to tell me something that reminded me why I respect him so much:
You see everyone in attendance at this meeting was given an opportunity to speak. When my friend stood he stated - and I paraphrase here – ‘I see you have done a great job seeking input from people from all backgrounds of community leaders, but why don’t I see anyone here representing the disabled community? Someone is missing!’
None of the organizers even thought to include people with disabilities in this ‘major community action effort’ whose sole purpose was to seek input from all backgrounds to ensure inclusion.
Myth #9: Professional people without disabilities often know what is best for people with disabilities.
Reality: People with disabilities respect professional people without disabilities and like everyone else in society seek them out when needed; however, unless someone lives with a disability or has experienced it through a family member or close friend, it is very unlikely they can speak on behalf of persons with disabilities.
The behavior of not including people living with disabilities is an important missing piece of the puzzle.
Again I say, what a wonderful world it would be if everyone, every single one of us, were looked upon as having worth. To be considered important enough to have a seat at the table, to have an opportunity to be heard, and to be a contributing member of the community, regardless of our background, ethnicity or, in my case and many others, disability.