THE BIG SOCIAL BARRIERS & THE SOLUTIONS:
FEAR – This is the most common obstacle. We are often afraid to approach someone with a disability, even if offering help. We don’t want to be invasive or offensive. We don’t want to appear condescending. We are afraid of a potential bad reaction.
OVERCOMING FEAR – It’s okay to be scared of the reaction, but most likely, the reaction will be well-received. People are people. Some like casual conversation and some don’t. Some appreciate help, and others don’t. Reaching out to anyone in need is the right thing to do.
AWKWARDNESS – Perhaps we just don’t know what to say or if we will be understood. We don’t have the right words. We don’t know exactly what to do, and we don’t want to stare. We are not the only ones who feel awkward. People with disabilities are often used to being treated differently or even ignored. They may have lower expectations of us, and their behavior may appear aloof because they are used to being marginalized.
OVERCOMING AWKWARDNESS – Change needs to occur for everyone. We can all overcome the awkwardness. Just like with fear, awkwardness can also be overcome by altering our behavior. For those with and without disabilities, we need to treat one another the same. When you speak to someone, even a stranger, you look him or her in the eye. That’s where it starts. Eye contact, then a connection is made, and we are on our way to inclusion and unification.
DIFFICULTY: It is much easier to look away than to watch someone struggle.
OVERCOMING DIFFICULTY – Bridging the gap between those with disabilities and those without is easier than you think. People with disabilities can be socially marginalized because it’s effortful, even uncomfortable, to include them easily. Thus, they are often overlooked, ignored and treated as if they don’t exist. This social isolation is one of the most difficult struggles they face. It is also one we must change as a society.
DISINTEREST – Maybe you have nobody in your social circle with a disability. It’s not your thing. It’s not your problem. You’re busy. You have your own issues and agenda.
OVERCOMING DISINTEREST – As human beings, we have a social responsibility to care for one another. We take turns offering and receiving help when one is needy or one is able. The one thing we can be sure of is that at some point in life, everyone will experience a disability, even a temporary one. We will all experience a moment when we do not have our full abilities. If you have ever broken or sprained a bone, pulled a muscle or tendon, had your eyes dilated, been bed bound, had an adverse reaction to medication, been disoriented, been short of breath, been in a foreign country without speaking the language, or even just lost your voice, you have experienced limitations on your abilities. You were likely dependent on somebody else to help you. To drive you somewhere, reach something for you, to translate, to open a door for you, feed you, help you get dressed, read something to you… That help was given because somebody cared. That human concern is what makes the world go ‘round. Pay it forward. It will come back when you need it.
DISGUST – It’s hard to admit to this one, but it exists. We are human and we learn by example. Disgust over a disability that you see is a learned reaction, not an innate one. Our society teaches us not to look at someone who is different, or perhaps has a deformity or a behavior that we don’t understand. Sometimes strange behavior makes us want to run. Parents often think they should protect their children from seeing individuals who are suffering or are different. If we can’t see past the disability, it’s just not easy to watch.
OVERCOMING DISGUST – Human beings are amazing creatures. We can get used to almost anything. Children pick up on the cues of their parents and of their role models. If we show fear, they feel fear. If we show disdain, they discover disdain. If we show compassion, they learn compassion. Once they learn it, they will naturally share their compassion with others. Shut your eyes and look beyond the disability. Then you can see more clearly. You will see a person. Now reevaluate your disgust, and then let it go.
WHERE WE GOTTA DIG IT!
In public spaces – on the street, at restaurants, in shops, in parks, in pools, at sporting events, in camps..
In private residences – at social functions, at parties, at home…
In academic environments – at schools and universities…
In religious institutions – during prayers or events…
In the workplace – with colleagues and clients…
You GOTTA DIG a world like that!