Skin tone, sex and sexual orientation, race, religion and class are all stigmas that have existed from humanity’s beginnings. Anything that appears to be different from the eye of the beholder’s own experience was foreign and not understood. We began to eliminate our prejudices based on our understandings. Sometimes the shift was relatively smooth and bloodless, but more often than not the shift from persecuting someone who was different than us to not persecuting them was filled with violence ranging the scale.
One stigma that our Paleolithic minds cannot seem to avoid is toward those whom are handicapped, disabled, differently abled or any other word combo you wish. Whether a core ability was not there (seeing, hearing, walking) or a ‘wiring’ issue with someone’s personality or behavior, we are still to a large degree living in a tribal culture that shuns at best and is actively discriminatory toward at worst those who are traveling this world (and happen to have a disability).
No conversation of this topic would be complete without discussing this: Many disabled persons have a cosmically large chip on their shoulders (based on self-pity). This cannot be ignored. Beyond that, I imagine (and have the same thoughts) that many disabled folks wish they could show an Avatar to the world. If only to avoid people who feel sorry for them; even though they just want to help or have a warm heart, the ill-fated interaction with someone who’s disabled rarely go as they well-meaning mind would want.
Disabled persons want to feel/be seen as normal, even though they know that they aren’t. As we are different, it is natural that the urge would be to fight to be seen as normal. Perception is the problem – disabled folks feel marginalized and looked down upon as broken or an incomplete person. Nothing could be more incorrect – disabled people can do just about anything they want, to a point. I’d never attempt to become a firefighter or a Navy Seal – it would be stupid to try. Learning our limits is one challenge; helping others learn what those are (and what they aren’t) is a MUCH larger challenge.
There was a story in the news recently where a wheelchair-bound girl was protesting her rejection from the cheer-leading team in her high school. These types of stories do not help the plight of those who are disabled, nor do they help the disabled person — it is a given that each human being walking this earth must face and overcome certain obstacles in their life’s journey. The cognitive dissidence of the girl and her parents that allow them to believe she is entitled to join the cheerleading team even when she cannot perform the functions of a cheerleader is indicative of our lunatic society.
Part of the lunacy stems from the fact that folks who do not have a disability either look at those who do as a novelty or as someone that requires rescuing. To borrow a current irritating phrase, let me be clear — I am not speaking of the occasional opening of a door or the supporting someone’s request for aid. I am speaking of someone’s overzealous desire to either draw attention to a disabled person or to overwhelm the disabled person with unwanted assistance.
When I walk around, I’m “normal” looking and no one would think that I’m a person living with a disability. I had a dead battery once and tried to get the attention of people passing by. I could’ve been invisible with the results of my attempts to get help — no one seems to even see a person requesting aid. Contrast this with someone who is in a wheelchair; is rare to see someone rolling about and not find someone going out of their way to offer assistance. While this is an innocent, overzealous effort to ‘help someone to can’t do what we do’, the able-bodied person doesn’t realize that they are offer of assistance actually violates the prime directive for a disabled person.
The prime directive for those with disabilities is this — look normal, behave normal and be normal. Those with disabilities are fixated around the idea of being normal; those able-bodied persons that encounter disabled people noticing the abnormality attempt to give aid that cause the facade of normality to be shattered. We will get better at this process — we are however nowhere near the state that most people want to believe that we are in. My advice to you is this — treat disabled individuals as you would treat a coworker or your best friend. If you can ignore their disability you will make them the happiest person on earth.