Since the beginning of humankind, it has always been evident that each individual is born with unique strengths and weaknesses. Those traits can manifest in a broad range of forms, including the physical, cognitive, and emotional. In school, for example, there are those who are strong in subjects such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology, while others are strong in subjects dealing with social sciences, humanities, and language. Some who are naturally strong in certain areas may be comparatively weak in other areas.
Given the technological world that we live in now, an individual who has trouble grasping complex math might be at a disadvantage when it comes to obtaining lucrative jobs in certain industries.
Nevertheless, these individuals – who probably make up a very large proportion of us – are not labeled by society as “disabled” and do not suffer the consequences of the stigma attached to the label.
According to the Merriam Webster and Oxford dictionaries, a disabled person is defined as someone with a level of limitation due to a physical or cognitive condition, which results in difficulty using a part of one’s body or learning. Considering that every human being lives with some innate limitations, why does our society feel the need to identify and stigmatize those with certain noticeable conditions?
Considering that every human being lives with some innate limitations, why does our society feel the need to identify and stigmatize those with certain noticeable conditions?
To begin to answer that question, one might apply two possible explanations. First, a lack of awareness leads the vast majority of our society to view those we have deemed “disabled” as possible liabilities and thus fail to recognize everything that these individuals can offer. Fear of the perceived liability prevents many from taking the time and effort to allow these people a chance to prove themselves as valuable friends, partners, and professionals.
For the many individuals who do not have the experience or exposure to teach them otherwise, the inaccurate belief that those with disabilities are less capable or self-sufficient leads into a second explanation. As social beings, we often identify with the experiences of others and consequently avoid or shun anything that reminds us that our own sense of autonomy could possibly be compromised. These explanations do not suggest that those who live with a disability will not require extra accommodation from society. However, the need for accommodations should not imply that these people should be treated as disabled or, to use the French term, “invalide.”
Those who are called “disabled” because they require some form of accommodation tend to be as productive, if not more productive, than those society deem “normal.”
Those who are called “disabled” because they require some form of accommodation tend to be as productive, if not more productive, than those society deem “normal.” In the book Disability: The Social, Political, and Ethical Debate, compiled by Robert M. Baird, Stuart E. Rosenbaum, and S. Kay Toombs, John Hockenberry details in an essay how, despite his paraplegic condition, he was able to “walk with the Kurds” while reporting in Iraq after Desert Storm. During his prior international assignments, Hockenberry had used a wheelchair, but his experience while traveling with the Kurds was different. The rugged, mountainous terrain made it impossible for him to use his wheelchair, so he rode on the back of a donkey, which he described as his “first steps in fifteen years.”
These first steps did come with a set of challenges, given that the donkey’s downward movement on the mountain trails and the shaky, muddy ground made it necessary for Hockenberry to exert additional effort to balance himself. His description suggests that the donkey itself, at one point, became tired or frightened by the unstable ground and didn’t want to move any further with the crowd of refugees and reporters across a narrow rope bridge. The animal eventually bolted towards a patch of grass, making Hockenberry fall off of its back.
In spite of this tumultuous episode, Hockenberry was able to secure his reporting equipment and signal to his colleagues that he was fine while they looked on with concern. With assistance, he managed to cross the bridge, reach his wheelchair, and get the job done with no harm to himself or burden to his fellow reporters.
The label of “disabled” is a mindset that some members of society have promoted to discourage a particular group of people from believing in themselves and thus avoid holding institutions responsible when they fail to provide reliable alternatives that allow this group to fully participate.
Ultimately life comes with a set of challenges and setbacks for every person, and one can infer that John Hockenberry’s example shows how despite limited mobility, as humans we were naturally born to face obstacles, and that is how we grow and become more mature in our professions as well as our personal lives. Therefore the label of “disabled” is a mindset that some members of society have promoted to discourage a particular group of people from believing in themselves and thus avoid holding institutions responsible when they fail to provide reliable alternatives that allow this group to fully participate.
Hockenberry’s example, like those of many others who live with a physical or mental condition, suggests that the ability to contribute to the betterment of society does not rest solely on one’s physical mobility, but rather depends on one’s capability to use his or her mind both strategically and intellectually to overcome whatever limitation that life might cause that individual to experience.
The ability to contribute to the betterment of society does not rest solely on one’s physical mobility, but rather depends on one’s capability to use his or her mind both strategically and intellectually
In the weeks to come, I will continue to address this issue by drawing from examples to illustrate that those who live with a physical or mental condition are major problem solvers because life allows human beings to think competitively about everything that we do, and our survival depends on our ability to adapt and compete successfully. I will further demonstrate that, when society chooses to educate its citizens about a matter, that often results in better solutions for coping with the issue. This concept should be applied when it comes to diminishing anxiety about opening opportunities to those who live with a disability.
Posted By Wilson Charles
Posted Jul 4th, 2020