The Abled Disabled
By: Daniella Palomino, Contributing Writer
Edited by: Fatou Yeli Kourouma, Editor; Elias Azizi, Editor in Chief
What do Frida Kahlo, Stephen Hawking, Billie Eilish, Tom Cruise, Chris Rock, and Johnny Depp all have in common? Hint: it is not that they are all famous. Another Hint: look at the name of this article. If it still isn’t clear, every person that was mentioned in the start of this article is a member of the disabled community. According to the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), someone has a disability if they have a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities[...]”. Society has placed a stigma on this label, creating a sense of unnecessary awkwardness and division, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Through discussion of physical and sociological aspects of disability, stigma can be destigmatized.
ADA Act - Breaking Down Physical Barriers
Most people do not have to worry about how wide a door frame is, or if they can reach the elevator button. These small details are major factors for someone who may have a physical disability that is often overlooked by someone who is not affected. Instead of allowing for these details to go on without acknowledgement, in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed. This law has 6 parts that addresses the aforementioned details and aims to eliminate discrimination towards individuals with disabilites. According to ADA National Network, its components cover employment, public services, public accommodations, telecommunications, miscellaneous provisions, and transportation. This law implements different regulations for businesses, buildings, and transportations addressing the commonly overlooked details. The employment aspect makes it so that the same opportunities and benefits are available to everyone. Public Services discusses the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability, while also making their programs and services accessible. Public accommodation specifies construction alterations and measurements of facilities to ensure full access. Telecommunications focuses on creating services to allow use to any one with hearing or speech disabilities have the opportunity to communicate over the phone. Transportation is meant to provide user-friendly public transport on all vehicles, such as subways or buses.
Stop with the “They”
Although the ADA Act has broken down the physical barriers, it has not had as successful an impact on sociological barriers. Simple day to day language plays a crucial role in inclusivity. By referring to people with disabilities as “they”, it is not so much the word itself that is problematic, but rather the suggestion that they are not normal people, that they are excluded and separate from everyone else. Yes, people who have a disability may have to face different obstacles throughout the day, but they are people first and foremost. Along this concept, when referring to someone with a disability a key thought concept to follow is to say the person before the disability. For example, simply try changing “blind woman” to “woman who is blind.” This small flip of words addresses how although the person may have a disability, it is not their defining trait. Just as many physical barrier details are often overlooked, so are words.
Polite vs. Condescending, Not the Same Thing
Being polite suggests respect, such as holding the door open for someone, or an attempt to make another person’s life easier. On the other hand, one may come off as condescending when they immediately assume their need to help and do so with a sense of superiority. End the Awkward is a UK based campaign aiming to unblur the line differentiating polite from condescending, but to do as its name suggests, break the awkward tension. Scope.org conducted a study that found that ⅔ of Brits feel awkward around disabled people, and as a result try to avoid interacting with the community with disabilities all together. Yet, ⅕ of the British population was found to be a part of the community with disabilities. End the Awkward addresses in a comical fashion the few ways in which our attempts at being polite are in fact condescending. A few examples of such are bending down to be the same height as someone who is much shorter, heightening your own voice to the extent that it sounds like talking to a child. The series even goes to address how to interact with someone who has a disability. To which the answer is quite simple, be normal. Treat the person with a disability as someone ordinary. This is not to say talk to a deaf person as if they can hear you, or shake hands with someone who does not have hands, but rather not allow it to be their defining characteristic or determinant on whether or not you talk with them.
The Abled Disabled
Someone with a disability simply means that they have a physical or mental impairment that limits the ability to carry out everyday tasks. It is important to see beyond the disability, and recognize the community as people who have an extra obstacle in their path, rather than helpless.
Link to cover image: