By Mohammed Yousuf
It seems that not much has changed within the community (since I grew up with a disability in India) when it comes to attitude, acceptance and sensitivity towards people with various disabilities.
Seeing some parents of and people with disabilities struggle in our community, it reminds me of my childhood when even a casual walk with braces and crutches across my neighborhood was as arduous task as it invariably invited curious onlookers and noisy name-callers. I realized that the name calling had to do with how I looked and walked. I did not have an issue with that. However, I started to feel different from inside since I was treated differently from outside. I turned away from the world around me and mostly confined my life to myself.
While polio is unheard of these days in USA, other impairments like autism and mental impairments in particular are a cause of worry to thousands today. Our community seemed to be particularly hit due to a serious lack of awareness about available resources and coping and living with a disability.
More and more disabled children and their parents are living a life of despair and isolation. Parents prefer to stay home with their impaired kids than to participate in social events and gatherings. The burden is mostly shouldered by the mothers, while the dads go out to eke a living and be at social events within the community. Imagine the psychological impact on these parents. The trend is alarming and is causing a huge psychological damage to the parents, the individuals and the society at large.
There is a certain degree of social stigma attached to a physical disability and that in turn adversely influences their inclusion in the community – thus leaving them feel isolated and un-welcomed. This may be the reason some families are reluctant to disclose that their child has a disability. This may be the reason they don’t want to bring the child to a social event because people offer an abundance of sympathy and bombard them with embarrassing personal questions in public. We don’t seem to understand that it was not their choice to have a disability…if they had a choice they would prefer a life without a disability. However, just because they have a disability does not mean that their disability should become the topic of the evening. This is a subtle and inadvertent form of mal-treatment.
The parents need not feel insecure about having a child with a disability or be apprehensive about exposing them to the mainstream; the sooner they’d do that the better it’d be for them and the child. The society, where some children with no etiquette often tease and mock a disabled child, in an unabashed manner will eventually come around and learn to live and deal with the disabled much the same way as the siblings, friends and peers of a disabled do.
While ADA, disability advocacy groups, independent living centers etc have helped to increase awareness and community inclusion for people with disabilities in USA, my American friends with disabilities point out that they had gone through lack of sensitivity and awareness in the past. What we see today in USA is the result of many years of concentrated effort from various individuals and groups. A similar effort needs to take place in our community now. The change has to come from all sides, the parents, the people with disabilities and the society as well.
If we can’t be courteous, let’s not be discourteous to them. it takes lot more courage and determination to bring an impaired out to the social events. Let’s not make it hard and difficult on them than it is already for them. Can we work together and find ways to advance civic, economic and social participation of persons with disabilities in all spheres of our society?
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