Knowing What Disability Means
While people think that physical and mental disability only affect a minority of Americans, there are actually a large number of people who deal with disabilities in varying degrees. It’s important to take advantage of this Disability Awareness day on July 16 to raise awareness and educate people on how we can improve the lives of disabled Americans. Because, the fact is, disability affects more than those who’ve been diagnosed.
In 2012, the U.S. census found that 1 in 5 people have a disability. Additionally, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, about 20% of this population were employed as of May 2015. It’s hard to believe, but such progress has only developed within the past two and a half decades. On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This federal law gives those with disabilities “the right to equal access and opportunity in the areas of employment, transportation, public services, and telecommunications.”
Some of the provisions included in the ADA are details we’ve come to accept as regular, even mundane additions to society. Normally, we don’t give a second thought to curb cuts or the braille on public restroom signs, but these disability-friendly modifications are a result of an increased respect and advocacy for Americans with disabilities. Disability Awareness Day is crucial to such change as we learn to embody the mantra of the Scope organization, “see the person and not the disability.”
However, Disability Awareness Day is not only for those with severe physical disabilities that are easily recognized. This day is also for raising awareness of people with hidden disabilities who also struggle, maybe even to a larger extent.
Those affected by a minor disability or who are high-functioning often feel uncomfortable identifying themselves exclusively as “handicapped” or “normal.” This anxiety also stems from the tendency of others to disregard someone’s impairment because it’s not a “real” disability.
The key to interacting with people with any kind of disability is sensitivity. Remember, the cardinal rule in disability awareness on any day is “do not assume.” However, treating people with common courtesy should be a daily ritual in all of our lives.
Many Americans don’t know the extent to which mental and physical disability affects those who have been diagnosed—their family, friends, co-workers, and potential employers. Due to this lack of awareness, it’s important to not only expand our understanding of disabilities, but also to become more sensitive to those perceived as “less than capable” by society on a daily basis.
To read some truly inspiring stories of people re-defining disability, check out our April blog.
Image Courtesy of Arturo de Albornoz via Flickr.