October is the Disability Month

October is the Disability Month

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

The month of October is designated as the month for rehabilitation for the disabled. Therefore, it is in order to examine our own attitude towards the handicapped and the disabled. How would your attitude towards a handicap or a disability be viewed by someone who is trying to cope with one?

One recent morning, while thinking about writing this article, I experienced something that made me even more aware of our response to a visible disability. I went to a public facility that morning and the person in front of me, who was on crutches, stood there keeping the door opened for me. I was about 30 to 35 feet away from the door. Normally, if someone opens the door and waits for me, I walk fast to the door and thank them. However, in this case, I literally ran to the door and thanked him profusely.

My "over response" to his courteous manner was a reflexive action. I couldn't stand the thought of someone on crutches opening the door for me -- it should have been me opening the door for him. I wonder if I overreacted to the sight of crutches. Did I assume that just because a man is on crutches, he is totally disabled and helpless and can't even keep a door open?

Sympathy for an apparent handicap or disability should be accompanied by an equally strong respect for the person's strengths and abilities. A person in a wheel chair may be far more mentally tough and steel-willed than someone who can run and lift weights.

Words such as "handicap" or "disability" often conjure up misleading images. Incidentally, handicap literally means, "hand in cap." The person with a hand in cap was like a person fighting with one hand tied behind his or her back.

In 18th and 19th century, the term "handicap" was used in the context of sports contests and meant a restriction or disadvantage imposed upon a superior competitor to "level the playing field," so to say.

Using the term handicap in its original meaning, a person who is "handicapped" might in fact be a superior competitor. It is the experience of many that some "disabled" workers are more dependable, efficient and committed than some "able" workers. Some handicapped individuals are far more grateful and appreciative of what they have than non-handicapped persons who might take for granted what they have.

Pity is the worst of all. It amounts to disrespect for a person who is trying to cope with a challenge. An employer who gives a job to a handicapped person is far more helpful than the one who merely pities him or her. How so? Because an employer who simply pities without regard or awareness of a person's strengths might not deem the handicapped fit for any job.

It is in meeting the challenges of circumstances that our dormant strengths come to surface and help us to grow. Many "challenged" individuals are more assertive and have higher self-esteem than many able-bodied who don't challenge themselves enough.

Today, many such challenged and assertive people are raising their voices regarding how society should view them and relate to them. Their voices are beginning to be heard. The attitude and perception of those who plan and provide for challenged individuals is gradually but steadily changing. Here are a few indicators of that change:

Instead of the government or an agency determining what some challenged individuals need, we should find out directly from them what they need or want and respect their choices. We should not impose our values and preferences, but respect theirs.

We should provide the challenged individuals opportunities to support their choices and what they want to be, rather than merely offering assistance for subsistence.

We should form a collaborative relationship with challenged individuals to help them realize their objectives rather than assuming a provider's role. Stated another way, instead of care giving, we should assume the role of care partnering.

A challenged person needs to live his or her life as completely as possible, which means to be able to go where others can go and do what others can do. A challenged person should be given assistance for higher education, holding a job, having a family, enjoying sports and communication, using public facilities, living and moving about in the community like the rest of us, and of course, living a productive life and contributing to society as a productive citizen.

The most important thing in life is to decide what is most important. It applies to the able-bodied and the challenged alike.

E-mail a link to this article to a friend. 

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Copyright 2001, Mind Publications 


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