Defeating disability stereotypes

Andrew Tutty explains why we need to see the person first

Andrew Tutty

We are one fall away from a potentially disabling injury. Is this a reasonable statement? Absolutely! One slip on the ice lurking beneath a fresh snowfall, one misplaced step on the stairs or an uncontrolled slide across the lobby on a wet floor could result in temporary or permanent injury.

Most of us have been faced with a temporary disabling injury and have had to adjust to a lack of mobility or the inability to perform previously simple tasks. Remember the extreme effort that many of these tasks suddenly required. Can you recall the level of frustration you experienced?

Keep these personal exposures to temporary disability in mind as you read this article. Use the empathy you’ve gained through the difficulties you faced during these episodes in an effort to understand the issues being faced by millions of your fellow citizens who live with a permanent disability.

When the word “disability” is used, an image of a person in a wheelchair or a person using a white cane is sometimes brought to mind. These images are representative of only a few disabling conditions. A spinal cord injury or disease may be one of many reasons a person may find themselves navigating a wheelchair. It is more likely a person using a white cane has some usable vision.

Some conditions are not readily apparent or identifiable. They require medications or lifestyle changes to help mitigate symptoms. Many Canadians face devastating mental health issues such as acquired brain injury, depression, bipolar disorders or other chemical imbalances that affect mood. These non-visible attributes can result in misunderstandings and misconceptions.

I hope to dispel some of these misunderstandings and misconceptions by encouraging a dialogue about the differences and the commonalities within the disability rights movement. We must endeavour to move out of our comfort zones and seek innovative ways to foster inclusion and accommodation. My hope is that through education and an increased awareness, people will gain insight and become participants in seeking solutions.

A common thread within the disability rights movement is accessibility. We generally think this means access to the built environment, the streets, parks, public buildings, automatic doors, ramps and accessible washrooms. These are vital components, but accessibility encompasses a much broader set of attributes.

It’s also about equal access to transit, business and governmental services, written and electronic communications, education, employment, recreation, and housing. More fundamentally, it requires a shift in attitude toward equality and the ability to live, learn, work, and play with dignity and independence.

What can you do? It’s simple: see the person first, not the disability. Help change attitudes. Use your abilities and talents to volunteer within the K-W community. There’s no lack of organizations that would benefit from your skills.

Where can I volunteer?

    This local organization can connect you with organizations in need. If you have a particular skillset, or are looking to work with a certain group of people, they can also help you search for that and make sure you make a great match.
  • KW Habilitation
    KW Habilitation assists people with developmental disabilites. They need volunteers to help run their daytime programs at the Kinsmen centre, which include people with skills in computers and technology, art and a whole host of other disciplines.
  • Canadian National Institute for the Blind
    CNIB often needs volunteers to assist with their programming or in some cases act as “Vison Mates” who provide companionship to someone with limited of no eyesight. Sometimes the greatest gift you can give someone is companionship.
    This organization rehabilitates children with physical and developmental disabilities. They work with over 400 volunteers a year. Some of the opportunities include positions fundraising or sitting on boards to assist with programming for the non-profit.