Last Friday I took a part in a meeting with disabled youngsters. Every week they meet up and communicate with other students to get practical life skills. I believe it provides the opportunity to learn appropriate social behaviors and make new connections, a way of recovery, gives access to activities and services not available on a regular base. Disabled or able-bodied, we all have the power and responsibility to make society more inclusive for everyone. Here are 8 ways we can continue to make our world more accepting of people with disabilities.
1. View the Disability Community as a Valuable Consumer
It’s still progressive to see the disability community as a targeted audience and consumer. They are the biggest minority population in the world, yet the most under represented when it comes to marketing products, as they are the last to be thought of. While part of this stems from the fact that there is a great deal of diversity within the disability community, those consumer segments (and their families) still have significant purchasing power. We’re slowly seeing models with disabilities incorporated in fashion and marketing commercials, but this needs to become the norm, and not seen as future-forward thinking.
2. Employ People with Disabilities- They are Ambitious and Want to Work
According to NPR, “fewer than 1 in 5 disabled adults are employed.” CNN Money also stated that, “disabled workers earn about $9,000 less a year than non-disabled workers, according to Census data on median earnings. That gap was under $6,000 in the early 1990s.” The disability community is still discriminated against at work from being refused a job or denied a final interview. But when it comes down to it, employers need to see a person, including his/her disability, as an asset and not a potential liability.
3. Increase Disability Representation in Political Setting
Can you think of many politicians or government officials- local, state, to national level- who live with a disability? If you look hard enough you will begin to see the variety of disabilities many people live with who work inside a political office. However, are we encouraging younger generations with disabilities to become politically involved? How many local to national political campaigns incorporate the disability voice? According to NCD’s Report, people with disabilities still encounter architectural, attitudinal and technological barriers when exercising their right to vote, including, no automatic door openers, an absence of Sign Language interpreters, no Braille signs or ramps; narrow doorways and inaccessible voting machines. In addition, voter competency for people with intellectual disabilities was challenged and some people were turned away. This is not okay.
4. Integrate Disability History in School Curriculums
How can a person with a disability acknowledge and identify with his/her history if it’s not widely taught? How can the community be embraced if their civic background is never taught? Even more, Disability Studies is still an emerging discipline in which to receive a degree as many schools do not offer it. Disability history needs to be integrated within our school system for the community to fully acknowledged.
5. Promote Social Inclusion in Schools
Our overall cultural consciousness on how we treat and interact with disability needs to change, beginning in elementary schools. We need to celebrate our peers for their differences. If this is taught at a young age, less discrimination and more social inclusion will occur. Having kids with and without disabilities learning side-by-side helps everybody appreciate the talents and gifts all kids bring with them. As a society, we have the responsibility to promote the inclusion of our differences.
6. Employ More Actors with Disabilities in Media
We need to see more actors with disabilities playing actual character roles of people who have disabilities. No more able-bodied actors playing a person with a disability when an actor living with a disability can be easily hired. I understand if a director wants to hire an able-bodied actor to characterize a person before his/her accident or disability, but what about movies or shows where a character is already disabled? How could an able-bodied actor play a character with a disability better than a person living under those circumstances? And even at that, our media needs to do a better job at accepting disability as a human condition instead of a flaw and imperfection.
7. Make Air Travel Universally Accessible
Many people with disabilities are active business people with vibrant careers who are respected in their various fields. That is, until they get to the airport and become dependent on the Special Services Request or cannot use the washroom once in the air. Many people with disabilities have faced unfortunate experiences at the airport or even in the air- left for hours without a chair, or access to a washroom. The level of disrespect and invisibility a traveler with a disability endures can be astounding and frustrating. Training the Special Services Request personnel would go a long way in promoting a more positive experience though the “just ask, just listen” approach. A better interaction would be to ask travelers with a disability what they need and act accordingly. Also, major airlines need to do a better job at accommodating people with disabilities by building an accessible restroom within planes. Many people with disabilities have to forgo traveling for long flights because they do not have access to a bathroom. It’s unbelievable how companies have put a blind eye in enabling basic human rights for people with disabilities.
8. Realize that People with Disabilities are Humans too
It’s interesting how we can see a person in one dimension and forget that he/she is a human being, intricate with multiple angles. When we see a person outside of their element, we tend to forget that a he/she’s life is a culmination of different sides and not just how we see them in an isolated environment. Sometimes people can forget that a person with a disability is a human being with desires, talents, skills, heartache and loss, just like everyone else. At the basis of every person are the similarities we all share for being human, and that includes people with disabilities.