In talking with someone recently they inquired about how I could help their friend who was waiting for approval for “disability” for a medical problem. The same day, I learned of a child who would be born with Down syndrome. Each would use the word “disability” in their lifetime, but their paths would be very different.
AWS Foundation works with the community to make a more accessible Northeast Indiana for everyone. When we do this, anyone with a disability has the potential to benefit. The word “disability” is used often and means many things to many people. While both the friend with the leg amputation and the child with Down syndrome are seen as having a disability, how they are perceived and judged in a community are very different.
Too often, I hear generalizations about those with disabilities, including:
- “I feel sorry for the disabled, so of course we should help them”
- “The disabled have the ability to work. Cut their benefits, and then they will have an incentive to get a job.”
- “People should have to qualify for disability every year.”
- “Most people with handicapped parking are just lazy.”
The intent of this brief column is not to provide a primer on waivers or differentiate Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI); rather, it is to encourage each of you to stop and think before speaking or judging.
Many disabilities are invisible. Disability can, and likely will, come at any time in our life. Some are at birth and some come later in life after years of crippling work that caused the disability. Some disabilities are temporary, and some are life-long, but every person, regardless of their abilities, deserve to be part of our community without judgement.
- The person parking in the blue parking space may have limited strength or they may have a passenger you did not see.
- The child you see screaming at the store may not be the result of a parent who doesnt know how to manage a temper tantrum. Perhaps the child has autism and the store causes sensory overload, but the parent needed groceries with no childcare options available.
- The family down the street may have had multiple failed attempts with jobs or services for their child. Staying at home and getting regular monthly checks is a consistent income source that provides their only known secure and safe environment for their child.
March is Disability Awareness Month. I would ask you to do me a favor. Acknowledge that each of us has differing abilities rather than disabilities. Consider the thought that you may not know the challenges. I would ask you to stop before you jump to judgement. Financial assistance from the government is not a windfall but a safety net. I would ask you to search for a way to make your neighborhood, your church, your school, your workplace, your community just a little more welcoming, just a little more inclusive and just a little more accepting of everyone.