Each Wednesday, I post my response to a question from the Redefining Disability Challenge. This is my response to the thirty-fourth question in the Challenge. As usual, I am not looking ahead to future questions, so I may inadvertently address some topics which will come up later in the Challenge. Here is this week’s question:
How has public perception of disability changed in your lifetime?
This is a question I struggled to answer. It should be an easy answer. I ought to be able to say public perception of disability has changed in a positive manner in the course of forty-two years. Most of the time, in my world, I can say that. The physical environment we live in has become more accessible. More people with disabilities are pursuing higher education. When I travel, rarely am I the only person using a wheelchair in public spaces. Every television set I’ve owned for the past fifteen years has closed captioning options. More books and magazines are available in alternative formats.
But while there has been some very positive movement towards community integration, I can’t say there is a positive perception of disability in our society.
I can’t say it because I continue to hear strangers tell me and others, “I’d rather die than have to rely on someone else to help me with personal care.”
I can’t say it because I regularly receive invitations to events but when I call to ask about accessibility, most times the event planners have not considered anyone other than a nondisabled, hearing and sighted person might attend their event.
I can’t say it because each week I read a blog post written by someone with a disability explaining (once again) why it is rude to assume people with disabilities need help and to just provide said “help” without asking first.
I can’t say it because only 35% of Americans with any type of disability are employed either full time or part time, as opposed to 76% of Americans without a disability.
I can’t say it because I am still told, “It’s nice to see someone like you out.” As opposed to where – in an institution where people who use wheelchairs should obviously be???
Does this mean everyone has a negative perception of disability? Of course not. In fact, with one out of five people self-reporting disability, chances are good you know someone (other than me) who has a disability of some sort. You probably are related to, and may even like, some of these people!
But when was the last time you saw a media story about a person with a disability which did NOT feature their disability? In my personal life, I can count on one hand the number of media interviews I have completed in my lifetime which have not involved my disability. And a quick Google search will tell you I have never shied away from media.
Part of the reason for me completing this blogging challenge was to provide my own disability story as I want to tell it as an alternative to the disability story often portrayed in mainstream media. There are many people with disabilities who are using blogs, YouTube and other social media to tell their own stories. I shared some of the ones I regularly read in this post.
I hope as more people with disabilities share their stories, the public perception of disability will start to change. Social supports and disability policy will hopefully reflect changing realities for people with disabilities and allow them real equality rather than regard them as second class citizens without autonomy. When that happens, perhaps disability will be viewed as part of the continuum of life, and not something which must be avoided at all costs.