Friday, May 10, 2013

Silence Surrounding Disability

In many of my college classes, we engage in extensive discussions surrounding the rights and oppression of racial groups, of women, of lower economic classes. In textbooks, authors often devote entire chapters to the challenges faced by racial minorities. These issues, they're important; they're not to be overlooked.

One chapter that I find to be largely missing from textbooks, though, one subject that rarely comes up in conversation, involves disability rights.

If these issues are talked about, it's just for a moment, a fleeting moment, a mere sentence devoted to the topic of disabilities. What does this say about the rights of people with mental and physical challenges? Why do we gloss over this issue so often? It matters.

In one of my classes, we were discussing the idea that many people view groups other than their own as inferior. The conversation focused exclusively on the issue of race. I'm a quiet person by nature; I prefer to sit back and listen before contributing, but I couldn't help myself this time. I raised my hand.

"What about people with disabilities?"

Silence. Some of my classmates shifted uncomfortably in their seats.

I pressed on, told them about Andrew. He was a boy at my hippotherapy (therapeutic horseback riding) lessons when I was little, a few years older than myself. He was hit by a car, and was almost completely paralyzed as a result. Andrew was unable to speak in the 'conventional' way, but that isn't to say that he didn't speak. I saw the way people looked at him, saw how they assumed he was inferior, assumed that he couldn't think for himself, assumed that he couldn't have opinions, thoughts, and dreams. But these people, they weren't seeing the real Andrew, the Andrew with a vibrant sense of humor who told jokes using his communication device, who spoke more with his eyes than we could ever get across with words.

My classmates stared. There was silence for a moment. Then, "Wow."

And the uncomfortableness was gone, the conversation shifted to include those with disabilities. I want my classmates to become individuals who see, truly see, people like Andrew, recognize that everyone, regardless of race, gender, or disability, is important.

Let's break the silence surrounding disability. It matters.

6 comments:

  1. In March I contacted Allie's school amount world down syndrome day. I asked the committee for human differences why we have all these programs for awareness of differences with not one of the focused on disability. Guess who is now in charge of that for next year?

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  2. Kerri,
    That is AWESOME!! Let me know how it goes!! :)

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  3. I took a class concerning this very issue. Having a daughter with disabilities has really opened my eyes to the discrimination of all minorities. Everyone including those with physical or intellectual disabilities have a voice. Their concerns and well being need to be recognized! Thank you for linking up at Friendship Friday. Please do come again. I appreciate your point of view, support, and friendship!

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  4. Sylvia,
    Sounds like an awesome class! I would take that in a heartbeat. :) Thank you for your comment and for allowing me to link up with you; I always look forward to reading your blog. Hugs and prayers for you and your wonderful family.

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  5. Aw, my awesome friend. Could I adore you even more? Nope, nope, I could not. Thank you for being the voice of so many. Thank you for reminding people that those who cannot speak have a voice. That those who cannot walk have dreams of flying.
    Thank you for taking the time and having the perspective to raise awareness in your classrooms. My son's world will be better because of your voice. I thank you for that. And please, if you ever want to write another guest post, I would love for you to do so.

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  6. Glad you were not afraid to speak up regarding the oppression of disabled people and our history. Shocking to consider how little it is talked about. Only when I took a class on Human Relations for Teachers (I was originally a SPED major in college...) did we spend ONE day speaking on issues of disability rights. Even that was momentous. And I remember being touched (and beyond relieved) that my prof (a WoC) never singled me out in THAT way and made me a mouthpiece for the disabled experience.

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