You may have experienced something similar to the following. You are having a bite to eat with a good friend. Your friend is intelligent, compassionate, and a joy to be around. As you order coffee after your meal, your friend suddenly says something that totally catches you off guard. His thought was insensitive and very archaic. In this instance, his statement had something to do with a person with a disability. You immediately think, if this fairly bright individual thinks this, how many other people hold onto an outdated disability myth or misconceptions?
For individuals like that friend, we have compiled a list of disability myths to correct his and others’ beliefs.
Eight Disability Myths
Disability Myth 1: People who are blind have exceptional hearing.
Someone’s vision or lack of vision has no bearing on her hearing. However, someone who has low vision or no vision likely depends more on her hearing and may be more attuned to sounds than someone with full vision.
Disability Myth 2: “Disabled person” is always negative, one should use the words “person with a disability”
She states that people-first language is preferred by many people to be the most appropriate way to refer to people once called disabled. Instead of “disabled person,” people-first advocates prefer “person with a disability.” The philosophy behind this is to first see the person, not the disability.
Promoted to show respect, person-first language inadvertently posits the the idea that disability is negative. If you separate the disability from the person, doesn’t this insinuate that disability is something to be separated from you? Disability is a neutral term like any other word, until society makes it negative.
There is no rule that determines whether the most respectful language is identity-first or people-first. Some communities prefer one way; other communities prefer the other way. And there are always exceptions.
Never assume if you are in a position to ask.
Disability Myth 3: Employees with disabilities are absent more often than employees without disabilities.
Studies show that absenteeism for employees with disabilities is not any greater than for employees without disabilities. Actually, on average, people with disabilities have lower absenteeism rates.
Disability Myth 4: When someone is having an epileptic seizure put something in his mouth to prevent him from swallowing his tongue.
Swallowing one’s tongue is literally impossible. If something is placed in the mouth of someone having a seizure, it can cause choking. Also, restraining the person during a seizure can cause injury. A better idea is to move hard or sharp objects out of the way and put something soft and flat under the person’s head.
Disability Myth 5: Train your children to refrain from asking someone about her disabilities.
Children have insatiable curiosity. They seek answers. It is a natural result of them trying to understand the world. Most people with disabilities understand this and won’t mind answering a question. If parents discipline curious children, they introduce negativity and may lead their children to believe that having a disability is “bad.”
Disability Myth 6: People with disabilities are an inspiration because they live with a huge burden.
Some people tend to look upon people with disabilities who live independently, go to school, succeed in a career, and any other number of life-fulfilling activities to be brave or for overcoming their disabilities. Most people with disabilities are not looking for praise for performing everyday tasks. The disability exists and they have adapted to it as a matter of course.
Disability Myth 7: Sex is not on the list of priorities for those with disabilities.
Whether you have a disability or not, everyone values sex differently. The belief that people with disabilities have more important things to “worry about” is similar to the erroneous belief that people with disabilities exist in some type of childlike state and need help prioritizing their lives. People with disabilities are as sexual and express their sexuality all types of ways, just as everyone else.
Disability Myth 8: People with disabilities want to be friends with one another.
People with disabilities may share similar characteristics and even interests, but that in itself does not mean they want to establish a friendship. Friendship is more complex than the potential for shared characteristics.
Are You a Myth Buster or Myth Believer?
Did any of these surprise you? Did you hold on to an inkling of any of these myths? Every population fights some type of stereotype, myth, or misinformation, and people with disabilities are hardly an exception. In order to change stereotypes, you must change attitudes. And misunderstanding, lack of experience, and interaction drive attitudes.
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