Disability Discrimination Equals A Lack Of Respond Ability
Disability Discrimination - It Is In Our Hands
As a society we have come a long way in the resources and equipment that are available to persons with disabilities but it is questionable whether our change in attitude towards those among us who are disabled has kept pace with the technology. While it is true that disabled people in the 21st century have greater access to stores, parking, restaurants as well as hotel and motel accommodations it is questionable whether their access to their fellow man has advanced at the same rate. There is still an alarming lack of public awareness about disabled people. That lack appears to stem from people seeing the disability rather than seeing a person who has a disability.
Disability discrimination does still exist. Despite the laws protecting disabled people from discrimination there are many covert means by which the discrimination is still visited on disabled people in spite of all the advancements that have been made.
The term 'Disability Benefits' is an oxymoron. Those among us that have a 'disability' deserve the same regard, respect and consideration as those who are able bodied. Ignorant attitudes and trite platitudes just don't cut it. A small, subtle shift wherein able bodied people cease to focus on the disability and instead focus on the person who happens to have a disability could go along way to bringing about much needed changes.
My first memory of my grandmother was seeing her in a hospital in Victoria, B.C. I was three years old and had flown with my mother from Nelson, B.C. to be with my grandmother who had recently undergone an operation to have her left leg amputated. I hold only two clear pictures of that time, one was looking out the window of the plane and in looking down at the fluffy white clouds and up at the clear blue sky I asked my mother, "Where is God?" I do not recall her reply. The second image I have is one of my grandmother lying in a hospital bed with her white hair flowing out on an equally white pillow as her face attempted a weak, toothless smile at the sight of us. The next time I saw her I was five and she was in a wheelchair. She had come to stay with us in our new home in Prince George, B.C. It was from that point on that I was to get a deep appreciation for the challenges faced by a disabled person living in world entirely geared for the able bodied. The year was 1955.
In that same year a young girl from Bishop, California was a gold medal contender for the 1956 Winter Olympics in slalom. While skiing in the Snow Cup in Alta, Utah the nineteen year old Jill Kinmont suffered a back injury when she hit a tree. The accident left her confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. After over a year in rehabilitation Jill went on to obtain a degree at UCLA in Rehabilitation Processes. Later she received her teaching credentials from the University of Washington. Jill's first attempts at seeking employment as a teacher in her hometown of Bishop met with not protest but down right refusal to hire a "cripple". She persisted and in 1975 she began teaching at the school which now bears her name where she remained until she retired in 1996. Two movies about Jill Kinmont, now Jill Kinmont Boothe were made. The first one, The Other Side Of The Mountain was released in 1975. I attended the movie with a girlfriend and when we got in the car afterward to drive home I put my head down on the steering wheel and cried for over an hour. My friend did the same. The two movies did much to raise awareness of the challenges faced by those challenged with a disability.
"Speak tenderly to them. Let there be kindness in your face, in your eyes, in your smile, in the warmth of your greeting. Always have a cheerful smile. Don't only give your care, but give your heart as well" - Mother Teresa
By whatever means one goes from being able bodied to disabled the result is life shattering. The attitudes and platitudes presented from those of us who are not effected by the disability either through experiencing it ourselves or through the experience of a loved one can only be described as a total lack of response ability. I recall one incident in particular where my mother and grandmother had gone out shopping. It was wintertime and my mother was unable to push my grandmother's wheelchair so she pulled it. Tipping the chair back to get it up over a curb my mother's feet slipped in the wet snow and down she went with the wheelchair and my grandmother on top of her. They both burst out laughing as passersby on the sidewalk either ignored them entirely or walked around them to cross the street. They both lay on their backs for quite some time before an employee from the store they were trying to get to noticed them and came to their rescue. That year was 1959.
"Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls" - Mother Teresa
The late spring of 1986 found me at a Standardbred Racetrack in Cloverdale, B.C. with a group of parents and children that I had never met before. I was there to assist them in fund raising for Children With Cerebral Palsy. The children ranged in age from eight years old to young adults in their early twenties, all were in wheelchairs. Everyone of them was excited and smiling and happy to be contributing to their own cause. That is they were until the streams of people entering the grand stands strode past them as though they did not even exist. As more and more people with unseeing eyes passed by the youngsters their high spirits ebbed. One of them looked at me and with tears in his eyes said, "It's always like this." I promptly grabbed the handles of the young man's wheelchair, said "We'll see what we can do about that" and raced towards a race enthusiast. Positioning the wheelchair so that the fellow had no choice but to stop I said, "This young man has something to ask you." It worked, money went into the tin and we were off in a heartbeat to cut our next victim off at the pass. Other adults saw what we were doing and accomplishing and soon there were twenty some odd wheelchairs racing about the entrance to the race track like bumper cars gone mad. The children were laughing, the parents were laughing and the donors were laughing. People began to stop voluntarily just to take part in the fun as they made their much appreciated donation. I later found out that it was the most successful fundraiser they had ever had.
"Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless." - Mother Teresa
In the time between my grandmother's leg amputation and present time there have been others who have pioneered the way in raising the public's awareness of the needs of the disabled. In Canada we have the National Terry Fox Run each year to raise money for cancer and to pay homage to a young teenage boy who, having lost a leg to cancer began running across Canada on one good leg and a prosthetic leg to raise both awareness and money. His journey was cut short when the cancer having returned took his life before he could accomplish his goal. Rick Hansen, Canada's "Man In Motion" covered the world in his wheelchair. Christopher Reeves has come and gone from the United States where after his fall from a horse became a champion for the cause of the disabled all over the world. There are many others and there will be more but all their efforts in increasing our knowledge and awareness will be for naught if our attitudes do not keep pace.
If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. - Mother Teresa
A few months ago I read a letter to the editor of our local newspaper wherein the writer was complaining about "all those big cars that disabled people drive" taking up too much room in the local mall parking lot. It was disconcerting to me that someone in this day and age with all the information available to us could somehow remain so dismally ignorant. I challenge anyone to swing two useless legs out of a compact vehicle while wrestling with a wheelchair.
When I was a little girl children with disabilities were sent to 'homes' that were not homes. They were kept "out of sight and out of mind". Today people with disabilities predominantly live in their own homes, with their families but even now, all too often when they are out in public, they are still not seen and we still do not keep their best interests in mind.
Throughout many countries in today world young men and women are and will be returning to their native lands suffering from injuries sustained in combat that have left them disabled. They went where they did because we asked them to, if not directly then by our silence and they deserve our full presence and our full respect whenever we have the opportunity to interact with them. They and all disabled people young and old alike deserve to be both seen and heard. If we cannot give them this then only the mechanics of the circumstances of the disabled have changed, the mechanics and nothing else. Having better technology does not automatically make us better human beings. It up to each and everyone of us to take responsibility for our ability to respond.
Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.
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