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Confronting Society's View of People with Disabilities

Updated on March 8, 2011

Society's View of the Disabled

Discrimination against people with disabilities is one of the greatest social injustices in our country today. Unfortunately it is also one of the least publicized and most neglected social issues in recent history. People with disabilities are generally looked at and talked about in a negative way, and are subsequently treated differently than people who are not seen as disabled. It is hard to pinpoint the very source of many stereotypes because the issue of disability rights transcends the borders of race, ethnicity, education level, economic standing, and class issues. In fact, disabled people are generally invisible to the public. Out of sight and out of mind is the way in which people tend to deal with the injustices endured by the disabled community. The only way to confront the issue of discrimination against people with disabilities is through social awareness, education, and tolerance of those who have a disability.

Education

One of the most elementary rights that are granted to most in our country is a public education. People who face disabilities tend to learn and grow in a way that is different than what our society typically considers “normal”. Some people take longer to learn than others, this is a fact. Just because someone learns in a way which differs from your own, does that make them any less or more of a person? Before many of the laws that have been passed recently in
our nation’s history children with disabilities were looked at as less than human and in most cases were not offered a formal education. Set aside and disregarded as the ruble of the human race. In fact it was only in 1961 that public school buildings started to require ramps so that they could be accessible by all. Fortunately today, most children that suffer from disability are put into special programs that can accommodate their needs as people while allowing them to experience an education. More of an effort should be made to increase the availability and effectiveness of public special education programs across the nation.

Independent Living

One of the least recognized social injustices faced by the disabled community is the right to live independently. In other words, allowing people to have a choice between being institutionalized and living on their own. In general, our society cannot even grasp the idea of being forced to live in a manner that is against their personal will. The idea of being “forced” to live in a way that is physically and mentally degrading does not pass through the heads of many who are blessed with a choice. Before hearing about this issue in class, I too had never considered that many disabled people are forced to live in nursing homes and institutions against their will. One common excuse for not taking action is the thought that “this will never happen to me”, but when the day comes and you become disabled who is supposed to fight for you? Recently groups such as Adapt and the Independent Living Movement have fought hard for self-determination, self-respect and equal opportunities for the disabled community. The philosophy of independent living claims that the medical community is responsible for contributing to negative attitudes against disabled peoples. People with disabilities are often portrayed by the medical community as sick, diseased, bad, defective, and in some cases not capable of making even basic personal choices. There is a great need for more organizations such as these in the ongoing fight for disability rights. They are a crucial part of getting the message of tolerance out both on the community and national levels.

Employment

Being able to be employed and hold a job is a large part of most people’s lives. Having the opportunity to make a living and provide for a family is certainly an important part of a normal life. But for a person with a disability it can be very difficult to find work. Even now in our society many employers refuse to offer them jobs because of their disability. In 1990 The Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted in an effort to prevent discrimination against disabled people. It gave disabled people certain rights pertaining to hiring, wages, promotions, and layoffs. It also offered some incentives for employers to hire people with disabilities which have been important in keeping a larger percentage of handicap workers employed.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was important for establishing some basic rights of employment for disabled people, but even to this day disabled people are having trouble finding jobs. They are still being discriminated against fairly openly and not enough is being done to spread tolerance at the grass-roots level. More community involvement and political attention is needed now to bring this issue to light among the public. With more people involved we can make real strides towards ending this social injustice.

Children with Disabilities

Although education rights for children with disabilities have expanded greatly in recent years, problems such as bullying, name-calling, stereotypes, and ignorance are still huge obstacles that must be overcome. Kids who have disabilities are bullied fifty percent more than that of any other group (Special Olympics). Imagine being teased over and over for something that you have absolutely no control over. Sometimes the psychological and even physical damage can scar an individual for life. The fact that negative stereotypes are so commonly experienced early on in a child’s life shows that there is fundamental change needed in our society’s basic outlook. This change in perspective has to be reinforced early on so that the cycle of ignorance is broken. Only when we as a society can learn to teach our children tolerance and the importance of diversity can we begin to see a change in the outlook of our society as a whole. Education plays a crucial role in establishing our individual perceptions as well as the general tendencies of our society as a whole. It is the key to moving towards a society that does not place judgment on people based on differences that are beyond their control. This is why education to me, is the first of many steps that are needed to correct the social injustices that disabled people currently face. Special services from schools, community, local, state and federal agencies should be expanded to also promote ideas such as tolerance and diversity. These principles should become fundamental starting at the elementary level. This will allow for developed capacity of understanding that can be reinforced and expanded during middle school and high school.  This is undoubtedly the first and possibly most important step in fulfilling my vision of social equality for people with disabilities. It must start at the grass-roots level with people like you and me in the community willing to stand up for social justice and everyone’s fundamental right to exist.

What is being done?

There are a number of programs on the national level that have been introduced through the US Department of Health and Human Services.  Many of the protections which handicapped people have been fighting for have been addressed by the federal government. But what we are trying to do is to change the social injustices which plague the disabled community on a day-to-day basis. Sure, government can make public buildings accessible and provide help with education and employment opportunities, but this does not change the way that people with disabilities are judged in society. The only way to change the public’s perception of disabled people and put an end to the prejudices they face is to welcome them on a community level. This cannot be accomplished simply by those who are directly affected by disability. It will take the work of those who are not immediately affected by disability to bring the message of equality to light in the media and in the general public. Existing non-profit organizations and government programs have brought us a long way, but I guarantee it will take people like you, me, and others becoming actively involved in the fight for equality in the disabled community to begin to end the prejudices.

How you can help

The only way to end the pattern of social injustice is to strongly encourage acceptance and tolerance at the community level. We as a society must learn how to look at each other as equals. This cannot be accomplished solely by government mandated programs and national organizations. Instead it must be the individuals in the community willing to reach out and make a change in their own personal lives. People with disabilities must be looked at as what they are, human, just like all of us. When we as a society can begin to accept disability as “normal”, the negative stigma that is attached to the people who have disabilities will fade away. This is the immediate change in ideology that is needed to end the social injustices inflicted on people with disabilities in our society today.

Click here for a list of organizations and foundations that raise awareness of disabilities.

Comments

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    • Dee Marshall profile image

      Dee 13 months ago from London, UK

      A well-meaning article. As one of the 'invisible' people, I thank you for writing it.

      Interestingly, I first found out what it's like to be 'invisible' in the rehabilitation centre. The staff couldn't see people in wheelchairs! They would stand chatting in the middle of the corridor and often didn't notice wheelchairs couldn't get past them. The staff were also dumbfounded when I was strong about what I wanted to happen to me. I had to resort to waving my hand from side to side while saying 'way please , way please', an action I used as a glider pilot to make room at the landing point on an airfield.

      Anyway, good you wrote this article.

    • profile image

      Anthonia Orimolade 7 years ago

      if we all work together, we can accomplish this.

    working

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