All people, including kids, have a right to be respected and valuable, to work, and receive access and a fair education. This is inclusion. Why should a person’s difference define their opportunities?
Our culture is becoming more open to bringing people with certain abilities into the mainstream where they belong. Most times people thrive because of their difference, not despite the difference. Malcom Gladwell speaks to this in his book, David and Goliath.
Disability Scoop, a powerful publication for disability news, reported that Jim Parsons (from Big Bang Theory) is producing a new show called “Special” on Netflix coming out in April. It is based around a man with cerebral palsy that decides to use this “disability” to give him the “ability” to get the life he wants. Hopefully this show will give a new face to this diagnosis and show people that are not familiar with it, a way to discover, just like Will and Grace did in the 90s.
Also, The Unicode Consortium just came out with a few emojis that will be rolled out on most devices depicting certain disability experiences. Obviously, like the entire emoji keyboard, this is a gross underrepresentation of the disability experience but a huge step in the right direction. Apple worked with the American Council of the Blind, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation and the National Association of the Deaf to develop the disability-specific emoji to create mechanical limbs, wheelchairs, hearing aid emojis, among others.
We may not understand things we don’t directly experience ourselves. Some people in the USA are concerned that our culture is becoming too “PC”. They feel that their rights are restricted because of social pressure to use more sensitive terms for a variety of issues, race, sexuality, disabilities, you name it. But, I challenge you to imagine how kids and adults have had their rights restricted and soul attacked because of their disabilities. What if its just not about us?
Words and images are powerful and can lead to social and policy change.
The ADA National Network gives many suggestions to write and speak with respect when working with people in the healthcare system, but I think we could use these suggestions as we are interacting with people with certain disabilities in our daily life..
*Respect their privacy and willingness to disclose information about their disability
*Emphasize abilities, such as, “he uses a wheelchair instead of he is disabled”
*Consider the person first and the difference second
*If it is appropriate in your relationship or circumstance, ask the person what language they prefer when reference to their disability or diagnosis
*Be aware of potentially condesencing terms like “challenged”
*Do not use language or slang that is stereotypical or hurtful
*I think one point that may be surprising is not to portray the person as a super hero, be balanced. ADA National Network suggests, “Do not make assumptions by saying a person with a disability is heroic or inspiring because they are simply living their lives. Stereotypes may raise false expectations that everyone with a disability is or should be an inspiration. People may be inspired by them just as they may be inspired by anyone else. Everyone faces challenges in life.” This also reduces the pity situation.
*Do not mention someones disability or diagnosis unless it is important in the story.
*If you have a disability or have a child or family member with a difference, what do you prefer in regards to communication?
Ultimately, and of course, generally, people that experience differences in abilities are people. They want to live a fair life and have the same access to opportunities as people with typical abilities.
Are you ever unsure of how to handle communicating with your kids about disabilities? Has your child ever pointed out a kid that had a difference in the grocery store? These situations can be uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing. The Mighty had an insightful post by Courtney Westlake about the best way to manage. She suggests that you might say something to the effect of “she does look different, but don’t we all?” or “we all look different on the outside, but its what is inside that matters, what is your daughters name?” Above all, to parents with kids of typical ability, she wishes:
“I wish you would talk about differences more often. I wish you would read to your child about differences, and I wish you would positively and naturally converse about various kinds of differences, from wheelchairs to birthmarks, from Down syndrome to ichthyosis, from racial differences to wearing glasses. Ultimately, I hope that our children learn that if they have questions about someone’s appearance, they can ask you later, privately, so that they don’t hurt anyone’s feelings – because, after all, how we treat each other is much more important than how someone looks.”