SPEAKing Up: Understanding the Problem

Project Speak was created with the intention of opening up the lines of communication and presenting the truth of the disabled experience to the widest possible audience. We will work tirelessly to make sure that our content is unclouded by the stereotypes, falsehoods and misunderstandings that sometimes create tensions between people with disabilities and others. However if we hope to come together for an honest discussion we must first acknowledge what divides us.

1.  Prejudice – I would love to be a be able to say that there is no prejudice in the world that there are only misunderstandings; however this would be a lie. There are angry, stubborn, and hateful people in the world who do truly believe that only people like them are valuable. The important thing to remember is never to let another person’s beliefs define you or the way you look at other people. Each of us has the power and the right to make those decisions on our own. 

2.  Misunderstanding – Acknowledging the fact that there is prejudice in the world does not necessarily mean that every person who stereotypes the disabled is doing it out of malice. It has been my experience that even educated, intelligent, and caring people can sometimes act in ways that are hurtful. Not everyone grows up being exposed to disabilities on a regular basis and human beings do have a tendency to be apprehensive and even fearful about the unknown. This coupled with the fact that there’s so much false information about disabilities that has become ingrained into societal beliefs (like the idea that all physically disabled individuals also have mental impairments) can mean that sometimes people act in offensive, hurtful or stereotyping ways.

For example, I was the first disabled in several years person to go through my high school’s mainstream educational program. Most of my teachers had no experience with having a disabled student, particularly one with no cognitive or developmental impairments. Almost every time I went into a new classroom the teacher showed some level of apprehension or skepticism (one teacher whom I became particularly close with actually told me several years later he had never been so scared as he was when I first came into the classroom). Some even started to approach me differently than they would any other student but I stopped it as fast as I could. I was very honest and up front with them about what I needed and how I expected to be treated. I cannot take all the credit for this I also had a wonderful aid and a very involved mother who helped me through the process of growing up and understanding these things. Once my teachers understood my disability and what I was capable of I got a great education. 

3.  Media – The media plays a large role in dictating what is considered acceptable and “normal” (I use the quotes because I think normal is really an illusion) in this society and unfortunately there are very few honest, accurate, and thoughtful representations of the disabled community.

4.  Self-stereotyping due to dependency – This is the most complex and difficult to define factor of this conversation. There are many disabled people in the world who are extremely self-sufficient and take great pride in their independence. However, the fact is that most of us who are disabled or going to need  additional help in our lives. I think Sometimes that dependency can lead to bad habits. Some people simply get lazy and think that it’s easier to be weak and submissive to allow other people to run their lives for them. Sometimes, the self-stereotyping is done out of anger and frustration because it provides an easy way out. There are also those who lack the self-confidence to truly believe that they are capable of being active and outspoken in their own lives. One individual might go through phases where each of these things applies to them. However the important thing to realize is that no matter how dependent person is they do have the right to control in their own life. The law guarantees these rights and There are several resources available to help individuals advocate for their rights.