by Tony Coelho
In an episode of The X-Files, Agent Mulder comments that he has always wished he had a disability. Society doesn't expect much from people with disabilities, he explains. He could slack off and be called "courageous" for merely holding a job. This chilling viewpoint, expressed on one of America's most popular TV programs, exemplifies an attitudinal current hindering the progress of people with disabilities. Born of ignorance, fear and misunderstanding, it prevents our society from fully appreciating our potential and capabilities.
This patronizing mindset relegates many of us to low-skill jobs, setting different standards and expecting us to appreciate the opportunity to work for lower pay. Here are some of the other attitudinal hurdles we encounter:
Inferiority: We are treated as "second-class citizens" but our skills make our impairments a mere moot point in the workplace.
Pity: People feel sorry for us, which leads to condescension.We don?t want charity, just an equal opportunity.
Hero Worship: Those of us who live independently or pursue a profession are thought to be brave or special for "overcoming" our disabilities. We do not want accolades or patronage for performing day-to-day tasks.
Ignorance: We are dismissed as incapable of accomplishing tasks without a chance to prove ourselves. Quadriplegics can drive cars and have children. People who are deaf can play baseball and enjoy music. People with developmental disabilities can be creative and maintain a strong work ethic.
The Spread Effect: People assume that a disability affects a person?s other senses, abilities or personality traits, or that the total person is impaired. Some shout at the blind or don't expect wheelchair users to have the intelligence to speak for themselves.~
Stereotypes: Generalizations are the flip side of the spread effect. Some believe that all individuals who are blind are great musicians, that all wheelchair users are docile, that all people with developmental disabilities are sweet-natured, that all people with disabilities no matter what their situation are sad and bitter, setting us apart from the mainstream.
Backlash: Many believe employees with disabilities are given advantages in the workplace. Employers need to hold us to the same standards as our co-workers, though the means of accomplishing tasks may differ from person to person.
Denial: In light of the recent Supreme Court decisions, many do not understand that "hidden" impairments, including epilepsy, cancer and psychiatric conditions, are bona fide disabilities.Accommodations can keep valued employees on the job and open doors.
Fear: Many are afraid that they will do or say the "wrong thing" around someone with a disability. They avert their discomfort by avoiding us. As with people from a different culture, frequent encounters can raise the comfort level.
Breaking Down Barriers: Like architectural and transportation barriers, attitudinal obstacles cannot be overcome merely through new laws. The best remedy for beating them is familiarity, mingling as coworkers, associates and friends.