It has often been said that the biggest obstacle people with disabilities face is the negative attitude the general public often has about us. I can say from personal experience that nothing is further from the truth. Simple things like speaking to us can sometimes seem hard for non-disabled individuals. The Cerebral Palsy Foundation hopes to change this with the recent launch of the Just Say Hi Campaign, which encourages the public to simply do just that when they meet someone with a disability.
As someone with a visual impairment, I have encountered numerous individuals who simply do not know how to talk to those of us with disabilities. Sadly, I still run across people who talk down to me as if I were a young child. Once, my mom and I ran into one of her acquaintances at the store. When she asked how I was doing, her tone and pitch of voice changed; to say that I thought she was talking to a toddler is an understatement. I stayed as calm as I could, although that is easier said than done! After she asked me how I was doing and a couple of other questions, she seemed amazed that I was even capable of holding such a basic conversation. I and my disabled peers often experience similar situations, and this is when we are reminded that society still perceives us as less capable.
Although incidents like these are frustrating, I can somewhat understand why non-disabled individuals might be hesitant. Some years ago, my cousin who was working on getting her Master’s Degree in Special Education invited me to speak in one of her classes. While on our way there, she pointed out something I had never realized before. All these years she knew that I am a very capable person, but was sometimes unsure of how to ask me questions. Although she had always been curious about how assistive technology works, she never knew how to ask and only learned about it after my presentation in her class.
This is all to say that it’s not that people are purposely ignoring or condescending toward disabled individuals, but in many cases they are simply uneasy because they have never met someone with a disability. In the situation with my cousin, she was perfectly comfortable with me, but did not know how to approach certain topics. The reality is that those of us with disabilities are a minority, and most people have never met someone with a disability in person. Naturally, this might create hesitation and even fear from the general public, who often will not know what to do or how to react when they see one of us for the first time.
I can’t say I blame people for not knowing how to interact with me or others with disabilities. Nevertheless, it can be quite frustrating to know that they still don’t understand that we simply want and should be treated like everyone else. Disabilities can make some people understandably uneasy, but if they simply say hi, they will learn that there is much more to us than our physical limitations. Take the time to talk and get to know us, and you’ll be surprised about how much we have in common with you!