There are a lot of myths I hear about disability and people who are disabled. I would like to dispel some of those myths and explain how I see things from my point of view as a disabled person.
All disabled people are sick or even dying
This is not true for all disabled people. Some are born the way they are and the condition will never get worse from some sickness. Some are sick, but are far from dying, well no more than the rest of us are dying. My condition did get worse over time, my hip got more and more arthritic, but arthritis in my left hip was never going to kill me. The use of wheelchairs in hospitals for sick people may have contributed to the way people view someone as being sick if they use a wheelchair.
Someone in a wheelchair can’t walk at all
There are many reasons a person may use a wheelchair and not being able to walk in any way at all is actually quite rare. Mostly people who are disabled use them when they go out as they can not manage to walk very far before they experience pain or exhaustion. In my case I could walk short distances and mostly went out without my chair if I knew I would not be walking all that far or I could break up the walk with plenty of rest stops on benches. Some days I could actually walk further and rest less, but on bad days I could not walk very far at all. I used a wheelchair for longer distances as crutches could often get tiring or hurt my hands after a while. Another reason people use wheelchairs may be that they can walk, but only very slowly and they need the chair to help them keep up with their friends and family when out. It might be that the person is only using a chair for a short time due to being weak after surgery or an illness or whilst a broken bone heals.
Disabled people are brave and inspirational
Well this might be true for some disabled people, such as say Steven Hawking, but only to other scientists and people who aspire to work in science and it has nothing to do with him as a disabled person. If I inspire people that is great, but I doubt I do, unless people aspire to be still jobless and living with their parents aged twenty-eight. I do not see myself as brave at all, I am wimp when it comes to an awful lot of things, in fact sometimes I was too afraid to try things in case it hurt my hip. Disability requires adapting to a lifestyle, not bravery.
Disabled people need pity
While I do not see myself as especially brave, I also do not see myself as someone to be pitied. Disability is often seen as a tragic unending burden. OK so many disabled people need extra help with things, but everyone needs help sometimes. Pity is not the same as understanding and sympathy, which just shows you are being thoughtful. Where as pity as this disabled person puts it ‘is generally a reminder that somebody else thinks you’re screwed,’ (Disabled Don’t Want Pity).
Disabled people only want to hang out with other disabled people
This assumes that disabled people are all a one-dimensional group, all having exactly the same interests. I have a range of friends both disabled and non disabled. I do not automatically get along with every other disabled person, that would be like every green-eyed person getting along just because they have the same eye colour. My disability means I may have some things in common with some other disabled people meaning we can bond somewhat, but I do not have things in common with every disabled person.
Disabled people don’t have sex
It is sometimes assumed that disabled people are not interested in or simply can’t have sex. Well in some cases sex maybe more physically limited in the number of positions they can use, there is normally at least one way they can manage sex quite comfortably. People with learning disabilities are sometimes assumed to never understand or think about sex, but as with everyone else the ranges in sex drive varies. As Terri Couwenhoven, of Woodbine House publishers of books about special needs points out, ‘the initiation of puberty is not dependent on social or emotional maturity or many of us would never have matured!’ (Woodbine house) Which makes the case that all children need sex education of some kind no matter what type of disability they have, be it physical or learning based.
Curious children should not ask a disabled person about their disability
Children tend to give into their natural curiosity more than adults, which in this case in a good thing. When they ask a disabled person about them being different it is obvious they do not mean them any harm. I think if we educate them young about disabilities and expose children to disabled people they will grow up to be less negative and ignorant about disability. Parents sometimes tell children it is wrong to ask a disabled person about their condition, but if a child gets told off they may see disability as something bad, that all disabled people are to be avoided.
Having a type of learning disability means you are stupid
No, it just means your brain processes information in a different way. You still have the ability to learn. I have dyscalculia which means that I am bad at maths, I can’t calculate sums in my head very well, I am rubbish at directions and can’t judge distances very well. It is like my mind is made up of filing cabinets and the maths draw got stuck, it will open a tiny bit to reach in and pull out the very beginnings of something, but I can’t seem to reach the files further back. However my English file for reading and writing fully opens, as do most of my other files. Having trouble in one area does not mean you have it in all areas. However some times at school it seemed to feel like people thought you must be all round stupid if you have any type of learning problem, then when you said something intelligent they look at you with a sense of shock or assume you must be wrong. Most people with learning disabilities are good at other things, hardly anyone is good at everything.
People with Learning Disabilities are just lazy
I have heard it said more than once that a learning disability is just an excuse to not put in any effort and to be lazy. In most cases this is simply not true, I did try very hard at my maths for years, but it was very hard to be motivated by a teacher who called you lazy. OK, so yes sometimes people with learning disabilities can use it as an excuse to put in less effort than they should, but it does not mean this is the case all the time.
All mentally ill people are violent or unpredictable
Most are no more violent than anyone else. In fact people with mental health issues are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. When violence does occur it is mostly for the same reasons as it is with everyone else, either they feel threatened or had excesses use of drugs or alcohol.
People with disabilities are only able do simple, repetitive work
As with everyone else people with disabilities have a range of skills to offer, which differ from person to person. If you stuck me in a factory job that was exactly the same simple task every single day for hours at a time, I would probably end up having some kind of break down from the shear boredom. I do not mind work that is mostly the same each day, but at least give me some interaction with other people or something that makes me use my brain somewhat.
Disabled people need protecting from failing
Disabled people have a right to experience a full range of human emotions including disappointment and failure. No one likes to fail, but sometimes it is the bad times that make us stronger and make the good times better. Often it seems to come from people thinking that a disabled person has enough of a burden to deal with and they could not cope if they failed. However never letting a child fail because they are disabled may in fact just set them up for a much bigger failure when they grow up and realise the world outside of home or school won’t protect them from it.
Are there any other disability myths you sometimes come across? It would be interesting to hear how other disabled people react when someone makes a wrong assumption about them as a disabled person.
Disabled people are not all one homogenised group, we are individuals
Crippen, Disability Cartoons