Developing “Ability Awareness”

By Mona Chabra


Nisha can’t wait to meet Preeti, her new neighbor from India. Preeti looks nice and Nisha thinks they can be good friends. But, Nisha feels a bit apprehensive. She’s never had a friend with challenges before.

Society typically views people with disabilities as pariahs or non-people, but the South Asian sector has always magnified these negative perceptions more than others.

Although South Asians generally are well-educated in the sciences, technologies, management and healthcare, when it comes to disability awareness they usually lag far behind. Fortunately, everyone has the ability to change.

Most people react to disabilities with sadness and remorse. They might say things like, “So sorry you’re disabled.” People need to realize that the state of being disabled is not good or bad. It’s simply a state of being… just as a person is Chinese, Indian, male or female, How would you like if someone said to you, “So sorry you’re Indian!”

Disability is essentially a culture in itself. People from the disabled culture seek acceptance just as people from all cultures do.

Some people feel uneasy about approaching individuals with challenges. The best way to eliminate this uncertainty is to learn about disabilities and interact with the people who have them. Here are some basic ideas to help.

• No two people are the same. Some differences are just more notice­able.

• People with disabilities are people, not disabilities!

• A disability is only one characteristic of a person. We all have strengths and challenges!

• People with disabilities have many ABILITIES.

• Treat friends with disabilities like any friends. Invite them to come to your house or go out. Make sure the place you plan to meet is physi­cally accessible to them.

• Don’t treat people with challenges as if they’re stupid. They may actually be smarter than you!

• Utilize clear, respectful language when talking about individuals with disabilities. Use terms like “person with disabilities” instead of “dis­abled person” and “person who uses a wheelchair” instead of “wheelchair person”.

• NEVER use the terms “deaf and dumb”. A person who has hearing issues might be “hearing impaired,” “deaf,” or “deaf and mute.”

• Don’t talk loudly. Speak in a normal tone. Most people with dis­abilities can hear fine. If they can’t, they’ll let you know.

• Everyone is normal. We define our own version of “normal.”

• When talking to a person with speech or hearing impairments, speak normally and face the person to make lip-reading possible. If you don’t understand someone, don’t pretend you did. Ask the person to say it again slowly and/or louder.

• Remember that canes, wheelchairs and other medical assistive devices are an extension of the person with disabilities and should not be leaned on, tampered with, stared at or played with.

• Don’t be rude. People tend to ignore those with challenges and act as if they’re invisible. When people don’t know how to act around indi­viduals with disabilities, they usually avoid them.

• Live by the golden rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated!

By learning about the different ways to communicate with challenged individuals and focusing on abilities instead of DIS-abilities, we can build a world without social barriers and stereotypes. Increasing our awareness about those who are “DIFFERENTLY ABLED” will help ensure a more accepting society for everyone. 

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