My Theory Of How Society Views People With Disabilities
Very often people are not exposed to the disabled until later on in life. If the contact is made as a young child, there are questions asked but non-disabled children tend to accept the explanation of how and why someone is disabled without forming too much of an opinion about it. Games are easily adapted and life goes on. For those who are at an older age when first contact is made, there can be a great amount of fear, guilt, anxiety, jealousy and even anger a non-disabled person might feel toward the disabled. Generally, these feelings are formed subconsciously. As the non-disabled develop their interaction skills, these feelings may or may not disappear. If they do not disappear; prejudice, discrimination, acceptance or denial may result. These components of feelings are felt by society as a whole as well as family and friends of the disabled. The greatest problem lying within the interaction of the non-disabled and disabled is the fear of the unknown and the apprehension to ask questions.
I) What leads to prejudice
1. total not knowing and/or understanding
2. a result of misleading images
1. seeing what the non-disabled can do v's what the disabled cannot
2. something done wrong
1. not knowing what the disability is
2. not knowing how to act
a) what and how to say something
b) what to do
c) how to act
1. frustration from the limitations of the disabled
2. lack of patience because it takes the disabled longer to complete tasks
II) Who feels these feelings and to what degree
4. love or hate
5. broken homes
III) Reactions of people towards the disabled
A) How it effects society amd the disabled
B) The effects
V> How to correct and prevent discrimination and prejudice
A) Self involvement of disabled in social functions
B) A realization that they need help but are not helpless
C) Changing the images we have of the disabled
D) Mainstreaming in schools
F) Teaching the non-disabled about disabilities
G) National awareness
1. overcoming barriers
2. year of the disabled
When looking at ways in which the non-disabled interact with the disabled we often see apprehension, conflict, confusion and uneasiness. When witnessing these feelings we tend to wonder what and who causes them. Are these communication barriers the fault of the non-disabled, disabled or even still, the fault of today's society? I feel it is due to all these factors and more. However, many times, "society diminishes the disabled as persons and having placed them in this diminished status, can more safely deal with them as helpless. For if blacks are too dumb to know, children too young to understand, women too emotional to cope, the elderly too old to care, and the chronically ill simply unable, then, its their problem not society's."1
If we believe this, how is any interaction between the two groups possible? In order for interaction to be successful, we must not put the blame on either side if it fails, but instead examine what has gone wrong, for what reasons and try to correct them.
Society has managed to categorize people into two major groups. These are the "In-group" and the "Out-group". "The in-group is said to be the major of the 'human group'. A member of an out-group may want to be involved and noticed as part of the in-group. This results when a disabled person sees himself as a member of the in-group known as "normal". When this happens. He develops something called "self hate" (ie. hate for his own in-group)."2 The visible differences which puts the disabled into the out-group are speech impairments, deformities, involuntary movements, their way of walking, and physical aids they may need such as crutches, braces, and or wheelchairs. This is not only true of handicapped and non-handicapped people, but also exists between men and women, blacks and whites. The disabled person may refuse the fact that he/she has a disability so he will be looked upon as being 'normal" in today's society. The concept of an in-group and an out-group is the bases of all social interaction. As a result, there is a certain pressure on-those who don't seem to fit in. "All socialized human beings thoroughly steeped in interaction experiences. Indeed, "adequate" performance in interaction situations is the acid test of eligibility for the status of full-fledged humanness; the misfit, the handicapped and the psychologically disturbed are defined by the degree in which they impede 'normal' human interactions."3
In order for interaction to be successful, we need to examine who is coming together to engage in what social acts where and when.
This task is simplified by the fact that the vast majority of even the relevant conceivable combinations can immediately be ruled out as impossible or entirely improbable. The tremendous curtailment of conceivable interactions results, broadly speaking, from certain attributes of the physical world and from certain characteristics of men and the societies they build and inhabit. These factors set limits on the boundaries of the WHO, WHAT, WHEN and WHERE, upon the manner in which the individual may distribute his life resources among associates, activities, times, and locals.4
Even looking at these components of interaction, we see some constraining factors: Many times WHAT is a constraint upon WHO, while under other circumstances. WHO is a limiting factor of WHAT. "WHAT an individual will do is heavily contingent upon who is at hand, both in the positive sense of necessary role partners and in the negative sense that the presence of certain others will prevent many otherwise quite likely activities from occurring."5
Since there are these constraints, we tend to set up categories of who we wish to interact with by what position they hold. "Each individual has a position or, more accurately, a number of positions in the social structure of his society. The importance of these positions is demonstrated by the fact that, aside from the characteristics of the individual who holds them, the positions themselves have vast influence upon whom he is likely to interact with, in what ways, when, and where."6 With this comes the problem of social boundaries. Boundaries that we are often not aware of until it becomes a hindrance in our dally lives. The way in which they come about and affect us is as follows:
They prevent us from moving out of our social spheres to interaction possibilities beyond, and they also prevent many categories of dissimilar people from entering the sphere we inhabit. Consequently, by virtue of our positions in the social structure, we are thrown together with just those persons who are similarly situated. How, they may feel towards one another on individual grounds, men stranded together on a raft --or on a college faculty --are nevertheless going to interact with one another. In fact, it may be more accurate to say that we come to like some of those with whom we are thrown together than to say simply that we interact with those we like. People often do not regard social boundaries as constraints but are thankful that they exist, for. In many cases, we do not care to have anything to do with certain people, at least in connection with certain acts. That is, in many cases, people think of social barriers as means of keeping others out and never even consider the fact that they themselves are thereby kept in.7
Who then has the right to put people in categories and positions of higher groups? "Social opinion on whether particular activities are acceptable or unacceptable is, in the majority of cases, not free-floating judgment but is related to the social positions of the individuals involved."8 All this has been more or less a philosophical analysis of why and with whom we interact. It has however, been said that "at the organic level, physiologists have developed a wide range of variations in sensory acuity, location of nerve endings, hormone functioning's, and blood chemistry, all of which may directly and indirectly affect self-conceptions and interactions with others."9
Once society has set the ground rules as to what is normal, the problem of deviance arises. "Deviance is the infraction of some agreed upon rule. It then goes on to ask who breaks rules, and to search for the factors in their personalities and life situatlons."10 This is true for all groups such as blacks, Jews, disabled, etc. It seems to be the group who as more members at a given time, is the normal (in-group), while the smaller group is that which is labeled as being deviant (out-group). For example, if this world was made up of disabled people, and only a few people were non-disabled, the tables would be turned and the non-disabled would be labeled as being deviant. "Social groups create deviance by making the rules whose infraction constitutes deviance, and by applying those rules to particular people and labeling them as outsiders."11
Labeling of groups in turn, leads to stereotyping. Sometimes the disabled are stereotyped and are labeled as a menace to society. "The definition of stereotype is an exaggerated belief associated with a category. Stereotyping may also serve as projection screens for our personal conflicts."12 The labels we place on the disabled can be both positive and negative:
Just as whites have imposed their images upon blacks and men upon women, so have the non-handicapped upon the handicapped. Not only have these been images of what is beautiful and liked, but what is ugly and evil. These are labels and like all labels, they carry the societal message that disability-diviation from some societal norm is synonymous with helplessness, pathos, pity, incompetence, criminally, or perhaps saintlessness. But whether positive or negative, the individual’s self is lost due to the label or characterization.13
From all this, a few more problems arise, that of prejudices, discrimination, anger, fear, guilt, anxiety, etc.
One often wonders where and how prejudices were developed. The definition of prejudice, according to Gordon Allport, is "the thinking ill of others without sufficient warrant."14 This is, however, a negative and unclear definition; people may be biased in favor of others; they may think well of them without sufficient warrant. "A warrant is a judgment or belief which has no base to support it."15 It is said that, "the psychology and sociology of our relationships are impaired by the sets of assumptions and tendencies."16 People tend to make their own interpretations about certain situations. In doing this, people believe what they want to believe without examining the facts. Therefore, the situation is completely distorted. Many people, for instance, may think a person with a speech impairment is not only disabled, but also retarded. The following statement was made by someone who worked with the disabled day after day, "You need so much patience. It's hard. The greatest problem is when they can/t speak well. Then, at first I think they have a problem here, too [He pointed to his head.] I know they don’t. It’s very hard. I just want to send them out of my office, get them out of my sight... But I am getting more comfortable, I am learning."17 The distortion of disabilities may also result if a child is raised in a household that views the disabled negatively. The child will then most likely carry this negative outlook into adulthood.
Second is the set of "silent assumptions"18 These are the ways in which "people view others and different situations. Their views are based upon what society and their cultural background has taught them."19 Many societies have told us that the handicapped have no place in society and therefore should be institutionalized. The reason for this belief can best be described as the Toilet Assumption.
Our ideas about institutionalizing the aged, psychotic, retarded and infirm are based on a pattern of thought that we might call the Toilet Assumption-the notion that unwanted matter, unwanted difficulties, unwanted complexities and obstacles will disappear if they are removed from our immediate field of vision. Our approach to social problems is to decrease their visibility: out of sight, out of mind. The result of our social efforts has been to remove the underlying problems of our society farther and farther from daily experience and daily consciousness and hence to decrease in the mass of the population, the knowledge, skills, resources, and motivation necessary to deal with them."20
"Up until 1970, both the physically and mentally disabled were put into institutions for castration. This was done in hopes of preventing these disabilities from multipiying."21 This process was carried out in New York and parts of Long Island. In Holland, the theory of being institutionalized is quite different. Instead of "putting them away for negative reasons, a 65-acre village, known as Het Drop, was designed to house our hundred severely disabled adults. The way in which this village was developed is as follows:
In 1959 a physician by the name of Klapwijk was appointed head of the Johanna Stiching Foundation. This was the first Dutch institute for the non-adult physically handicapped. As a center it was eminently successful yet Klapwijk was bothered by this very fact. He and his staff were "physically rehabilitating" a large number of very severely disabled young children only to see them go of into a world in which they could neither fit nor function. To a large extent he felt this was due to the outside world's unwillingness socially, psychologically and architecturally to integrate them. He decided to do something about it. As he put it, "I wanted a way to find and help severe invalids achieve optimal human development and optimal human happlness."22
In order to do this, it was stated that "although formally and officially, Het Drop is a subsidized establishment for the treatment and nursing of physically handicapped persons, for the sake of its inmates, its character will avoid any resemblance, both in its architecture and its organization, to an institute."23
The third assumption is the "complete ignorance of the obvious."24 For example, the disabled are offered the right to go to school, work, and lead a "normal" and productive life. An example of this is:
Mr. Bonavallet. a 32 year old paralyzed man, planned to marry his nurse. The couple wanted a church wedding but was rejected by the church on the grounds that only people who can have any sexual relations can marry in the Roman Catholic Church. The priest stated that he could not perform the ceremony unless Bonavallet had a note from his doctor stating he would be able to consummate the marriage. Mr. Bonvallet said, "It doesn't seem that the Catholic Church is willing to flex its laws to meet the needs of the disabled." Two days later, Mr. Bonvallet made an appeal to Bishop Joseph Imesch and was awarded the right to be married in the Catholic Church."25
This and many other incidents are examples of discrimination.
Discrimination is similar to distinction because they are both a form of judgment concerning two or more groups. For instance, non-handicapped people may discriminate against the handicapped in forms of education, transportation, and or housing.
A few years ago, a group of fifty blind and physically handicapped residents fought for their rights to form a tenants association, the landlord refused them this right since 1981. He also does not let them use the community rooms such has the library and bowling alley. The disabled people were forced to picket the building.26
This is a form of housing discrimination. Although Het Drop was a service provided for the disabled, it too was discriminatory of whom they took in, and of how long they were able to stay.
The admission criteria hinted that while a resident with a serious illness would be admitted, the illness must somehow be contained. The implication was that a dramatic change for the worse might force an individual to leave. There is no age limit upwards, but those inmates who through old age should become mentally or physically helpless or permanently bedridden, will be persuaded to be moved to a hospital or other institution. The same applies for residents who develop mental or physical illnesses requiring nursing or medical treatment.27
Another type of discrimination is the expressing of a bias in the form of taking away the social right of the disabled person. An example of this is as follows:
A thirty-five year-old woman was not permitted into a greeting card store. The owner claimed it was a fire hazard to have a wheelchair in the aisles. As a result the woman took the owner to court and was awarded $1,500 on the decision that it is only a fire hazard when the store is completely full.28
There are five ways of acting out prejudices, antilocutlon, avoidance, discrimination, physical attack, and extermination. In the world of the disabled, an example of each is as follows:
(1) Antilocution is the verbal communication of people within a certain group that share the same viewpoints and prejudices against the disabled. (2) Avoidance is the complete staying away from the disabled to the point of ' inconvenience (3) Discrimination is the exemption of all disabled people from social situations. (4) Physical attack is the actual avoidance people may act out on the disabled. (5) Extermination is the killing or doing away with of disabled people.29
Images we may have of certain people can be, and usually are, very different from the particular person or group we are trying to perceive. "His is a result of ‘expression Impression'. The way society tends to express the disabled is an expression of severe helplessness and frallty."30
"When I helped a disabled person. I was afraid I might hurt them. They taught me that I had to ask them how they wanted to be handled. Every person is different in the way they need to be handled. There are no set rules!31
Most people will alter their views when they finally meet a disabled person who has established himself as a member of society, possibly with a family of their own. "In almost all the success stories that get to the public, there is a dual message. The first one is very important - just because we have polio, cancer, or multiple sclerosis, or have limited use of our eyes, ears, mouth, or limbs, our lives are not over. We can still learn to be happy. Be lovers, spouses, parents, and even achieve great deeds. The second message states that if a Franklin Delano Roosevelt and a Wilma Rudolf could overcome their handicaps, so could and should the disabled. If we fall, it is our problem. Our personality defect our weakness."32 Even this is not always true, many times people believe if one disabled person has made an extraordinary achievement, their sometimes feel that all disabled people can do the same. "Since all these people made it, it means that every person with a chronic disease or handicap could do the same and if they don't, it must certainly be their own fault. They must not have tired hard enough."33 Unfortunately, this is not true because it depends on the severity of the disability. As a result of this theory, there is even a greater burden placed on the disabled. This burden is not only on their ability to succeed, but also to fit in.
The problem now is how do the disabled correct the prejudices of society. "Victims of prejudices may, of course, inflict on others what they themselves receive. Deprived of power and status, one craves to feel power (SIC) and a sense of status. This is known as responding to prejudice with prejudice."34 People who are physically or mentally disabled usually cannot fight back with the type of violence that a non-disabled person may use to correct these prejudices. Instead, they can fight back with non-violence. This method consists of teaching and talking to people about their disabilities and other handicaps that exist.
An eighteen-year-old disabled high school student spoke to a Special Education class at Hunter College. The disabled woman has cerebral palsy. The topic discussed was mainstreaming. She told the class of her many experiences with the "normal" students of her school. Many questions were asked about her disability and her social life. The basic answer she gave is, "No matter how disabled anyone is, they should not feel sorry for themselves. The disabled are not special, just a little different. This was a first for Hunter College and she hopes to continue the wonderful experience. Not only do the disabled have to try and teach others, but they also have to learn how to ignore the negative attitudes that may exist, and must try to overcome their disability as best they can.35
These are the words of a person who has come to terms with her disability, and is able to share her experiences with others, but along with this comes two major problems: (1) Not every disabled person is physically, mentally, emotionally able to express themselves as effectively as this person was. As a result, if the wrong words are used, the non-disabled might interpret these experiences and think they were complaining about their situation. "It is difficult to integrate one's experience into one's own world, let alone communicate it to others. There is a certain inevitable restraint in this communication for what comes out seems like a litany of complaints. And no one, at least in our society, likes a complainer! It is realty. (2) If the disabled person is not able to talk about their disability, they might be regarded as being introverts and an overall negative Image of the disabled might be presented. Although a negative Image (for whatever reason) becomes implanted in the minds of the non-disabled, it is important to realize that no one is at fault. We all do not have the same communication skills and it is understandable if a person just cannot talk about certain subjects. This not only pertains to people who have disabilities, but who have had some other traumatic experiences such as the death of a loved one, cancer, etc. There are many who are not able to talk about their disability and who do spend most of their lives feeling sorry for themselves, frustrated, and angry. From my experiences, these feelings are also a result of what the person was taught. If a disabled person was babied as a child and told he/she can do nothing, then he/she~ will want to do nothing but feel sorry for his/her self. As for being frustrated, this is a result of the following: (1) seeing what other people can do (whether they are disabled or not) and realizing they can't do the same things. (2) Trying to complete, what seems to be a simple task, and failing over and over again. (3) Working with someone who doesn't understand what is wanted, and as a result:, takes twice as long to complete a task. All these things produce some anger from both the disabled and the non-disabled. For the disabled it is a result: of not doing what they want and in turn, becoming angry at both themselves and the person trying to help. The question now is how are the disabled supposed to show their anger without being condemned for it? The issue of anger goes beyond the ability to express it. While it may be more blessed to give than to receive, where anger is concerned the two go hand in hand. If we are encouraged to be angry at things that bother us, then we must also be prepared to receive anger if we bother someone else. Though such a statement seems perfectly obvious, its dally application is not."36 Therefore, the answer seems to be that both the disabled and the non-disabled have a right to be angry at their limitations.
It has been learned that the more knowledge the in-group (non-handicapped) have about the out-group (disabled) the more accepted the out-group will be.
*The first thing I thought of when I met a disabled person was. Whether or not I would have to speak slower to them because I wasn’t sure if they understood me. I never really noticed a disabled person before. There were never any disabled people in my schools or in my neighborhood.37
"There is a great need for non-disabled people to know more about the disabled. No one ever taught me what a disability was and now I was faced with finding out for myself. I want to know more about disabilities and I ask my friend, who is a special education major, what the work entails and what the disabled are like.38
Some disabled people teach the non-disabled in the school system. Particularly while in high school or college. They appear at social functions, meetings with the principal and may give lectures to teachers coming into the school system. Francis Lewis High School has set up such sessions. The principal had elected a disabled student to be the first disabled on the student review board. The sessions which they take part in are based on the subject of how and why they are disabled. During this time there is a question and answer period where the disabled are asked many specific and explicit questions about their family, education, and social life. Most Importantly, they are asked about their disability. He/she tries to answer these questions as openly and honestly as possible. This will insure the fact that the disabled are by no means special or different. "I see you as a normal person with a handicap which prevents you from doing certain things."39 This is usually the end result of these teachings. * "I can remember the day when I came home and said to my mother, I no longer see them as different. I now overlook their handicap and I am able to see the person."40
Before being enlightened as to what a disability is, there usually is some amount of fear that the non-disabled person faces.
*I remember really being afraid when I had to work with a boy who couldn't talk verbally but had a pencil coming from his head and had a word board. The thing that scared me the most was the fact that I didn't know if he understood what I said. We Just talked in a different way. By the end of the day, I realized that I wanted to continue working with the disabled and I no longer saw them as different.41
Many times the non-disabled are not aware of the many disabilities which exist. They are cerebral paisley, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, and scoliosis. Each of which is a congenital disease. Due to lack of knowledge, the non-disabled person may assume all disabilities have the same exact diagnosis. They may look similar, but are by no means the same.
The fear, which may exist, can result in anxiety.
Anxiety is a rational fear. It is also like an aggression in that people tend to be ashamed of it. Pride and self-respect, lead us to mask our anxiety. Sometimes it may lead to guilt. It may be felt by both the family and friends of the disabled person.42
Although anxiety is a very real and understandable feeling, it too can seriously hinder interaction. Once we have felt anxiety, it stays with us as a warning not to become involved with that situation that had made us feel uncomfortable. Therefore, we may be more reluctant to talk to someone with a disability because of a past experience where we tried, and had anxiety attack. As a result, "Man is a brooding animal concerned about his past actions and looking forward to the future with mingled hopes and fears. Anxiety and ambivalence are for him a way of life. Acting always on inadequate and biased information, man makes his crucial life choices and allocates his very limited resources."43
The parents of a disabled person may feel as if it is their fault that their child has a defect. They blame themselves and feel as if they have done something wrong.
If the handicap is apparent from birth it can come as a tremendous shock and can be accompanied by a strong feeling of revulsion and rejection. This creates anxiety and guilt. However, if the handicap results from a birth injury or disease, there is a great temptation to foist the blame on the opposite mate. The parent may consider the affliction as punishment for some previous misdemeanor.44
Other parents are unable to face the fact that their child is different. This can result in broken homes, adoption, and if detected before birth, abortion. Then there are the parents who can accept their child's disability. This may sound like an easy task but in reality. it isn't. This child needs an extraordinary amount of care. Although the parent may love the child very much, they too feel guilt. "No matter how much one is loved by the helper, there is still the inevitable feeling in our society of imposition and guilt."45
Often enough, when interaction between the disabled and the non-disabled first takes place, many think how lucky they are, not to be in that person's place. This also may produce a feeling of guilt. When the "able-bodied" confront the "disabled" they often think with a shudder, "I am glad it's not me." But the relief is often followed by guilt for thinking such a thought a guilt they'd just as not deal with either. The threat to be dispelled is the inevitability of one's own failure. The discomfort that many feel in the presence of the aged, the suffering, and the dying is the reality that it could just as well be them."46 Siblings as well as friends, feel guilt to the extent that they see that they can do certain things that the disabled person cannot do. These things can be as simple as walking, talking, running, and many childhood activities "normal" children take for granted. Activities such as, bicycle riding, football, and basketball games and many other sports. The non-disabled will usually compensate for any inadequacies and do the best to make the disabled feel as if he/she were part of this "normal group". "At Project Happy, a recreation program sponsored by Easter Seals and the Parks Department, disabled teenagers are able to play basketball with the help of wheelchairs. Everyone who plays must sit in a wheelchair. They shoot into a standard height basket and play full court. However, if for whatever reason the disabled person cannot throw upward, they are allowed to shoot into a garbage can. In this instance, the coach, Bobby Cugini, has compensated for their inabilities to throw a ball upward. The feeling of guilt however, still remains because many cannot watch the disabled struggle. Although the disabled are given garbage cans to shoot in, they often try to shoot into the higher basket. Their arms lock into a certain position and are unable to reach their goal. They most often miss the basket but keep trying. After a while the non-disabled volunteer will suggest that they try another sport because they feel the guilt of being able to shoot into the high basket without difficulty. Luckily, there are many people who want to help the disabled do these things no matter how difficult."47
*I would want to help a disabled person who wanted to do things such as ride a horse or go roller-skating. If they want to do things, I would help. However, if a person sits back and is mad at himself because of their handicap no matter how long you talk to them they still have the attitude of why should I do things on my own. When this happens, I would not want to help that person. If they don't even try to do things for themselves, then I Just don't see why I should help them. If they do make an effort, then I'll be glad to help that person. In other words, if a person doesn't believe in himself, why should anyone else believe in them.48
The feeling of guilt is defined as "a feeling of remorse for a wrong doing, the proper tone of the feeling being determined by its appropriateness to the situation of guilt.
The way in which we perceive the disabled is due to factors such as newspapers, television, radio and even comics.
The media creates the image of the disabled person as dangerous and monstrous, by linking ugliness and physical and mental differences with murder, terror, and violence. This association did not originate in the modern media. Such portrayals fill age-old folktales and stories. Children's films such as Peter Pan and Snow White distort disabilities. The artificial limb in the form of Peter Pan's Captain Hook comes to stand for evil of the villain who derives his name from his disability. In Snow White, the beautiful queen must turn into the wart-nosed, hunched over witch to accomplish her dirty deeds. 'Children learn that disabilities equal evil, early in life. This kind of distortion often leads to the disabled being stereotyped.49
*...Many times we see the disabled in movies as doing something great or special, when in reality they're just doing everyday things.50
Today, in commercials, the disabled are used to sell products such as soda. In a Dr. Pepper commercial, a man with a speech impairment asks for a Dr. Pepper. However no one understands him and he is given something else instead. He then violently knocks this out of the girl's hand. She realizes what he wants and returns with a Dr. Pepper. This commercial gives a negative connotation towards the disabled. The disabled man is made to look violent and ugly. He acts violently and his speech impairment is exploited.
We can help the disabled a great deal. However, that help can also turn into dependence.
Too often, those who work with disabled students offer compassion and even love but do not expect achievement. It is this that makes a person who has a disability a cripple. Indeed, it may well be that the most important thing a teacher can do is not only expect achievement from their students (and of course give the help necessary for achievement), but to ask of them that they help others as well.51
This is not only applicable to a disabled person's education, but also to their social and personal development. Many times disabled people are given things because the non-disabled person believes they cannot do these things for themselves. This is all done with good intentions and when the disabled person is a small child, he/she is indeed in need of great care. Irvlng Zola, was a man who did a study on people's interaction with the disabled. Although he was ambulatory, he did the study while sitting in a wheelchair. Here is what happened as a result:
As soon as I sat in the wheelchair I was no longer seen as a person who could fend for himself. Although Metz had known me well for nine months, and had never before done anything physical for me without asking, now he took over without permission. Suddenly, in his eyes, I was no longer able to carry things, reach for objects, or even push myself around. Though I was perfectly capable of doing all these things, I was being wheeled around, and things were being brought to me--all without my asking. Most frightening was my own compliance, my alienation from myself and from the process.52
When Zola was shown to his room, a woman came in to help him unpack. Instead of helping him, the following happened:
...Monika came in and suggested we arrange my room. Again there was the sense of unease that I experienced with Metz. Though she too, barely two hours before, had seen me not only walking with a cane but carrying a suitcase, she too "took over" without asking. And again, without being fully aware, I acquiesced. I rationalized that I was so tired and that it was a relief. Then without asking, she unpacked my things. When two visitors came in, she introduced me, explained who I was and why I was at the Drop.S3
For some disabled people, asking for help may actually become a habit, and is sometimes used as a crutch in later years. We must then break these tendencies by teaching the disabled various techniques they can use to accomplish their goals. For instance, if a disabled person who has limited, or no control over fingers, needs to button a shirt with small buttons, he/she will most likely ask for help. This is fine, but rather than relying on the person to do the dressing, it can be kept buttoned. If it is not already buttoned, do it before it is put on. Now all that needs to be done is pull the shirt over the head and the helper can do the remaining buttons. The important thing to remember is the person is getting the help they need while at the same time, is gaining independence.
This gaining of independence often leads to the person going out and living on his/her own. In doing so, there may be a few adjustments that need to be made. Their apartments may need to be reconstructed to accommodate their wheelchairs. On a smaller scale, their wardrobe may need to be adapted for their physical needs. Maureen Goldsworthy, former Head of Needlework at a Secondary School, has come up with a clothing chart to help the disabled plan their wardrobe accordingly. Within their homes there may be the following appliances to ease housework. (1) Tap Spanners - for those who can not grip, or turn faucets, (2) The Gripper - attaches to lids of jars. Used to open them. (3) The Reacher - for those who are in wheelchairs or confined to bed. Used to reach objects that have been placed out of normal reach. (4) Cup Holder - holds cup so it won't tip while pouring or drinking. (5) Pouring Stand - helps with pouring. (6) A Rubber Mat - holds bowls, cups, plates, etc. in place and prevents slipping.
Not only must the disabled be taught that they can help themselves, but they must also realize that they can help others as well. The ways in which they can do this is by participating in walk-a-thons, blood drives, telethons, and by sharing some of their personal experiences with others. This will ensure a positive and independent growth in both the lives of the disabled, and the lives of the people with whom they come in contact.
For those who we believe can do little, we give charity and view them as less than whole; for those whom we view as whole persons, we have expectations and make demands. Until we are prepared to do this in our work with the disabled, the image of disability that we have learned in the past will become the crippling bind of the future.54
The two most important things to remember, when trying to help the disabled, is that many are not helpless and given the right aids, can be very independent and productive. Also, ask them if they need the help. If they say no, let them struggle with whatever they are doing. In the long run, they will either get the task done, or say, yes,. I need help. This way, they will become independent and will not feel as degraded when asking for help.
I remember when I was about eight years old my mom would take me to church every week. One day, while standing next to her, I lost my balance and fell. With her help, I was able to get up. All of a sudden the woman behind us rushed over and tried to help me up. Although I didn’t know the woman and never saw her again, I have a negative feeling towards her. First of all, as anyone would be, I was embarrassed to have fallen. Secondly, who was she to draw even more attention towards me by repeating, "Is she alright, is she alright?" I guess the real reason why I disliked her so much is because she didn’t even bother to ask if I needed help. The end result was my asking why people couldn’t just leave me alone. Even she didn’t have an answer.
It has been proven that the images we have of the disabled are being changed toward a better outlook for the future. This is being done by many organizations recognizing the disabled.
The United Nations designated 1981 as the International Year of the Disabled Persons and chose national committees to coordinate and execute activities during the year. The major emphasis of the year was to increase public awareness as to what disabilities are and the problems they can entail. The plan underlined the view that disability is a relationship between an individual and his/her environment. It affirmed that societies have an obligation to make their general physical environment, as well as the range of social economic and cultural activities accessible to disabled persons.55
Since 1977, the Board of Education has enforced a system of mainstreaming. Mainstreaming is the process by which the disabled students are placed in a classroom of thirty or forty non-disabled students. There they are expected to do the same amount and the same level work as the non-disabled students. If the disabled student cannot write, another student is assigned to take notes with carbon paper. When he must take a test, he/she is sent to another room where dictation of answers to a school aide takes place. The school aide's job also consists of many other things such as taking the student to the bathroom and reading to those who, for whatever reason, cannot read. This is done so that those who need individual help can receive it without disrupting the whole class. With the help of school aides and the process of mainstreaming, the disabled students have the chance to erase society's images of them and it also gives them an environment in which he/she can develop independency.
Among the many programs available to the disabled are OVR and Independent Living Programs.
OVR is a federally funded program that primarily deals with helping the disabled with schooling such as high school or college. OVR also provides training programs for those who wish to work. Later they will try to find Job placement once training has been completed. The Independent Living Programs (ILP), are run by volunteers. They provide advocacy, professional and peer counseling, and attendant services through referrals.56
There are other programs that are not funded by the government, but are run independently.
For instance, Jim Bronotte, who was disabled during the Vietnam War, developed a saddle that allows him to ride a horse and to be "free" from his disability. His disability is the loss of an arm and both legs. He has also developed a ranch in Kumbya, California to encourage disabled people to ride horses and also to become self-reliant.57
These are just a few of the many services that recognize the limitations and the overall needs of the disabled.
The same degree of mannerisms that exist between non-disabled, when interacting, should also take place when interacting with the disabled. The key to doing this is to look beyond the disability. One must remember that even when there is no speech, communication is still always possible. All that is needed is patience and understanding from both the non-disabled and the disabled persons involved.