Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a new column series, “Athens Ability,” created by the Athens City Commission on Disabilities.
“Everybody’s fighting some kind of stereotype and people with disabilities are no exception. The difference is that barriers people with disabilities face begin with people’s attitudes – attitudes often rooted in misinformation and misunderstandings about what it’s like to live with a disability.” – Centers for Disease Control
I met an OU student in 2007 who came to the university from Nigeria to earn a master’s degree in Communication. She was already an accomplished radio professional in her country and sought the degree. From first view, one would never think she would be successful. Her hands and feet were lame and the manual wheelchair she brought with her was falling apart. Yet, I had never seen such determination. I asked about her impetus to weather the obstacles. She said, “If I can’t go around it, I go through it. If I can’t go through it, I go under it. If I can’t go under it, I go over it. I was struck by her persistence as she broke the myths of people who live with different abilities.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, here are a few:
Myth 1: People with disabilities are brave and courageous. Fact: Adjusting to a disability requires adapting to a lifestyle, not bravery and courage.
Myth 2: All persons who use wheelchairs are chronically ill or sickly. Fact: The association between wheelchair use and illness may have evolved through hospitals using wheelchairs to transport sick people. A person may use a wheelchair for a variety of reasons, none of which may have anything to do with lingering illness.
Myth 3: Wheelchair use is confining; people who use wheelchairs are “wheelchair-bound.” Fact: A wheelchair, like a bicycle or an automobile, is a personal assistive device that enables someone to get around.
Myth 4: All persons with hearing disabilities can read lips. Fact: Lip-reading skills vary among people who use them and are never entirely reliable.
Myth 5: People who are blind acquire a “sixth sense.” Fact: Although most people who are blind develop their remaining senses more fully, they do not have a “sixth sense.”
Myth 6: People with disabilities are more comfortable with “their own kind.” Fact: In the past, grouping people with disabilities in separate schools and institutions reinforced this misconception. Today, many people with disabilities take advantage of new opportunities to join mainstream society.
Myth 7: Non-disabled people are obligated to “take care of” people with disabilities. Fact: Anyone may offer assistance, but most people with disabilities prefer to be responsible for themselves.
Myth 8: Curious children should never ask people about their disabilities. Fact: Many children have a natural, uninhibited curiosity and may ask questions that some adults consider embarrassing. But scolding curious children may make them think having a disability is ”wrong” or “bad.” Most people with disabilities won’t mind answering a child’s question.
Myth 9: There is nothing one person can do to help eliminate the barriers confronting people with disabilities. Fact: Everyone can contribute to change. You can help remove barriers by: Understanding the need for accessible parking and leaving it for those who need it. Encouraging participation of people with disabilities in community activities by using accessible meeting and event sites; understanding children’s curiosity about disabilities and people who have them; advocating a barrier-free environment; speaking up when negative words or phrases are used about disability; writing producers and editors a note of support when
they portray someone with a disability as a “regular person” in the media; and accepting people with disabilities as individuals capable of the same needs and feelings as yourself, and hiring qualified disabled persons whenever possible. By the way, the student from Africa earned the degree, chair and all.
Editor’s note: Dr. Carolyn Bailey Lewis is Director and General Manager Emerita, WOUB Public Media, Ohio University. She is a member of the Athens City Commission on Disabilities, the Athens County Board of Developmental Disabilities, the OHIO Alumni Board of Directors, and committees of the American Red Cross and Age-Friendly Athens County.