Can We Change The Way Society Thinks About Disability?
Yesterday, I read an article about a PhD candidate in New Zealand who will be looking into changing the way society thinks about disability. Titled “Reimagining Disability,” the research will explore disability pride and ableism (discrimination in favor of ”able-bodied” people) through a group of intellectually disabled adults.
“Having a disability is largely viewed as having a problem, when it shouldn’t be,” says Ingrid Jones. “It’s just part of the diversity of humanity. The reason we have disability oppression is because society views disability as a problem. Being ‘able’ is seen as the norm, when society is more diverse than that.”
All I could think was, AMEN.
To me, it didn’t matter that her research is taking place across the world, because the challenges people with disability face seem to be similar everywhere. It’s more intense in some places, of course; there are developing nations where children with special needs are kept hidden away in homes, and may be considered a “curse.” But the commonality all countries share, sadly, is that people with disabilities are often seen as defective, lesser human beings.
I know this firsthand from raising Max. He’s a super-cute kid (if I do say so myself), and a charming, happy one at that. Bright, too. But there have been many times in his life when people have expressed pity about him, because of his cerebral palsy. Or excluded him from programs. Or have only been able to see his disabilities, not his abilities (or possibilities).
Max’s biggest challenges aren’t the ones caused by his cerebral palsy—they’re the perceptions people have of him.
As disheartening as this can be, I have hope. Through blogging and social media, many parents are showing the world just how much our kids rock. We’re asking for people to respect our children, both in their language and in their attitudes. We’re pushing for inclusion, in school and out, as a growing number of programs and events crop up that offer the same. More and more nonprofits are spreading the good word, like AbilityPath and Easter Seals.Many states, along with the Supreme Court, have chosen to use the term “intellectual disability” in laws over the now defunct term “mental retardation.” Meanwhile, technology like speech apps are enabling our kids to better interact with the world.
It’s going to be a long haul. But research bit by bit, program by program, idea by idea, people can find ways to help society welcome and include those with disability. Person by person, parents can change minds, and help give our kids a better chance at being seen as equals in society.
It takes a village to raise a child, yes—but it also takes a village to cultivate respect for a child with special needs.
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