Like with any marginalized group, the beliefs held by the majority culture about the minority group form the gulf between “us” and “them.” For example, intellectual inferiority of blacks was one of the divisive myths held by whites during the time of slavery that made the practice seem reasonable and even benevolant.
Myths surround disability in general and specific conditions in particular. I thought a sampling of those that drive me nuts might be interesting.
Blind people have better hearing.
I will grant you blind folks can sometimes perceive things using auditory input that sighted people cannot. This is more a function of training for we have taught our brains through experience how to interpret what we hear.
What a sighted person will not attempt with their eyes closed is something I cannot do.
Closing one’s eyes is not an adequate means to experience the world as I do. I have specialized training and years of experience to draw upon when I tackle an activity. With eyes shut, you may not know how to pour a drink, cross a road, or thread a needle, but that does not mean it is not possible just that you are ignorant of the methodology.
Blind people do not enjoy media such as films, plays, and television.
Visual media presents a challenge, but it doesn’t strip away enjoyment. I can figure out a lot with my ears and helpful people willing to describe visual components aid the process. When a professionally-done audio track is provided, I am in heaven. (Try your secondary audio channel or SAP with any episode of Law and Order on TNT for an excellent example.)
An inability to make eye contact indicates an inability to communicate.
While it is not possible to get my attention with visual means, my ears work well and a comment directed to me usually registers. If all else fails, use specific language that identifies me as the person you are addressing. “Excuse me blind woman…” (Blind is not a dirty word!)
Disabled people are not sexual beings.
If you have any doubts about this, I am certain a disabled person out there is willing to provide concrete, incontrovertible proof or ask one of my former significant others. Disability does not turn off the libido. Trust me.
Disabled people’s lives are less satisfying/fulfilling/rewarding.
I understand the origin of this misconception for it is hard to put yourself in the shoes of a disabled person and understand what in their life generates pleasure. Again, this is one of the cases where it isn’t possible for a non-disabled person to put themselves in a disabled person’s place and gain understanding of our lives. Yes, we cannot do some of the things that might have previously brought us joy, but other loves have taken their place. I will even admit that sometimes it’s hard to be disabled. That is often the case more because of the society that we inhabit not our physical conditions.
Disabled people will have disabled kids.
Many disabilities are acquired through accident or illness in no way connected to genetics. Large numbers of us have no greater chance of disabled biological children than any other person on the planet.
Someone is there 24/7 to take care of the disabled person.
I truly dislike it when I request a document in an alternative format only to be asked, “Oh, can’t somebody read it for you?” I live with a dog who hasn’t learned to read. Yet. I do not have someone at my beck and call for any task I care to dump upon them. My friends are incredibly helpful, but I do not abuse their giving natures nor should they be expected to take care of me. If in your life you are not providing such support for a disabled person, do not expect that someone else is doing it either.
Social welfare services are sufficient in quantity, quality, and scope to meet our needs.
No. Not even close. There is something like a 70% unemployment rate among the disabled and the majority of us live far below the poverty line.
Any entity serving any population of disabled people is incapable of being discriminatory.
Those serving the needs of racial minorities discriminate based on sexual orientation. Within the LBGT community, transgendered people experience discrimination. The same problem exists within the disabled world. An agency that serves the blind can be in a building without ramps or elevators. A wheelchair dance class might not rise to the challenge of including a blind wheelchair user.
Any service offered to accommodate a specific disability-related need is adequate making other accommodations unnecessary.
Disabled people are not created with cookie cutters. I read books best by use of audio recordings. Others blind just like me do better with Braille. Others love electronic books read to them by their computer’s screenreader. Meeting the needs of one person with a specific condition does not mean you necessarily meet the needs of the next person with the same condition.
When you are disabled, other marginalized group identities become irrelevant.
I’m blind, chronically ill, bisexual, and female. They all matter to me. Enough said.