I have a t-shirt that says, “Attitudes are the real disability.” Living with Cerebral Palsy, I recognize that this is true when I meet some individuals for the first time or happen to catch their eye on the street.
There is still a stigma attached to visible differences.
The old saying, “although we’ve come a long way, there’s still a way to go” certainly also applies to some attitudes about disabilities. While things and perceptions have changed, there is still a stigma attached to visible differences.
During my lifetime, I believe attitudes about disabilities have changed for the better. Today, people with disabilities aren’t automatically thrown into institutions or even killed in the United States. While we live in a more “accepting” world than fifty or sixty years ago, I still detect a feeling of uneasiness in some instances in my day-to-day activities.
Unfortunately, we are a society that judges outer appearances, rather than inner qualities until we show otherwise. We are uncomfortable with the unknown or things we cannot explain to ourselves. For such a diverse place, our country thrives on normalcy.
Individuals avoid situations where they are uncomfortable or do not know what to do.
As a rule, individuals generally avoid situations where they are uncomfortable or do not know what to do, so they look the other way concerning disabilities. Other times, even though they want to help, the general population feels as though they are being put on the spot, making them even less at ease.
While they mean well, some people’s words or actions appear patronizing, treating individuals who have disabilities like children. Sadly, some simply just totally ignore them. Both sentiments really rattle most disabled people’s self image and confidence, making them feel as though they are closed off from the rest of the world.
Talking to a disabled person on an adult level lessens frustration on both parties.
Making initial eye contact with a disabled person lessens the uncomfortable factor on both ends, perhaps even opening conversations. Offering help to a disabled person, rather then just jumping to their aid, is well appreciated by many. Always talking to a disabled person on an adult level lessens frustration for both parties.
Those of us who are different have to work tirelessly to prove ourselves to the outside world. Even then, we run the risk of turning others off by our straightforwardness or willingness to face the issue.
Society traditionally does not want to get involved with a situation outside their comfort zone. We live on such a fast-paced world that we are only concerned with our own wellbeing. Perhaps we as a society could take time to stop and ask some questions.
Remember to always look beyond appearances.
We are an innovative country—with open minds, unconfined by old structures. Yes, attitudes about disabilities are definitely changing, and in order to foster additional changed mindsets, we might remember to always look beyond appearances.
Diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at birth, Hope Johnson is an honors graduate of Messiah College in English and a freelance writer. Hope writes to promote general awareness about issues facing the disability community. Her mantra is that anything is possible with persistence, determination, and above all, hope.