How Social Media is Promoting Disability Awareness

People of all ages have embraced technology and social media. Nowadays, we are constantly checking our profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. to stay in touch with our family and friends, learn about the latest news and stay connected with what happens throughout the world. From seeing pictures of our family and friends, to viral videos of pets doing cute and silly things, there is always something everyone can enjoy! This has also created a great opportunity for people with disabilities to spread more awareness among the general public.

Molly Burke is a Canadian public speaker and YouTuber who happens to be completely blind. After struggling with and overcoming vision loss, bullying and mental illness as a teenager, Molly now works to educate others about the capabilities and challenges faced by people who are blind. Recently, I came across this video where Molly discusses the perceptions and realities of blindness, in an entertaining and engaging manner. Some of the situations she addresses are putting on makeup, using computers, pouring drinks and crossing the street. She also addressed the popular misconception of getting to know someone by touching their face – this was by far my favorite part of the video!

I found this video particularly interesting, because I can relate to all of the scenarios Molly addressed. In fact, I once had a college advisor assume that since I cannot see the computer screen, I dictated my emails and assignments to someone. After I explained how screen-readers and assistive technology work, he was more enlightened and fascinated by the topic! Most importantly, I educated him about what I and others with vision loss are capable of doing.

Molly is not the only public figure addressing the challenges faced by people with vision loss. Tommy Edison, better known as the blind film critic, has been blind since birth. He also uses social media and videos to educate viewers about blindness. Some of the topics he has covered over the years include using an ATM and crossing the street. Like Molly, Tommy uses humor to get his point across to his viewers. Tommy is recognized internationally, and many of his videos have become viral on social media.

As someone who is blind, a journalist and overall media enthusiast, I am thrilled at the unique opportunity today’s technology has given people with disabilities. Not only does it help us have more independent lives, but it also allows us to promote disability awareness all over the world. Long-time Sandy’s View readers know that the purpose of this blog is to inform and educate people about blindness and visual impairment.

Throughout my life, I have found that people are curious and eager to learn about how I and others with disabilities go about our lives. Thanks to social media and blogs, we are able to continue addressing misconceptions and breaking down the barriers faced by people with disabilities. This will one day help create a more accessible and inclusive society for everyone.


Commentary: Spreading Disability Awareness

Students across the nation are undertaking activities to promote acceptance and inclusion of people with disabilities. In Virginia, a group of students recently published a guide for creating inclusive environments for people with disabilities in schools. Here in Chicago, another student organized different disability awareness activities to show what people with disabilities are capable of, and how society can become more inclusive to this community. Both groups hope their projects will further create understanding about the needs of those with disabilities.

I’ve gone to speak at different elementary, junior high and high schools, and each time I am pleasantly surprised by the thoughtful questions students ask! Children wonder how I read, get around and cook without being able to see. Truth is, although adults also find these things intriguing, they might be hesitant to ask. Meanwhile, children will ask without hesitating, and will better understand and learn about disabilities from this experience.

To me, non-disabled children are also more understanding and willing to accept people with disabilities when given a chance to interact with them from a very young age. I experienced this firsthand at school, where more often than not, I was the only child who couldn’t see in my class. I remember going out to recess and playing on the playground equipment with my sighted peers, who didn’t seem to mind my blindness. To them, I was just another peer who happened to be blind, but other than that I was like anyone else. Teaching young children about disabilities will help them better empathize with people with disabilities. As a result, they will focus on what we can do instead of what we can’t.

Disability simulating activities can also go a long way in teaching people about various impairments when done properly. If students put on blindfolds and walk around or do other things without guidance, they will believe it is impossible or that blindness is frightening. On the other hand, if someone, preferably another person who is blind, teaches them about the different tools and techniques to do these things, they will learn that people who are blind or visually impaired can and do adapt successfully to their disability.

Kudos to the students in Chicago and Virginia for their initiatives of promoting disability awareness and inclusion. As individuals with disabilities, we are constantly trying to demonstrate our abilities to society in hopes that more people will look past what we cannot do. These and similar projects are perfect opportunities to show others how important it is to accept and include people with disabilities in the community, school and work. I’m sure these students and their fellow classmates will have a better understanding and acceptance of people with disabilities once they become adults, and this will go a long way in promoting inclusion and awareness.

Commentary: On Being Poor and Disabled

Since it’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Sandy is sharing one of the most popular posts from 2015 on employment and disabilities. Enjoy!

The high poverty rate and lack of opportunities for people with disabilities throughout the world are clear indications that we have not done enough to help this community. I recently read an article about the Framing Perceptions Project, a set of portraits that aim to give us a glimpse into the lives of disabled individuals in India and Uganda. Reading the many stories made me realize how fortunate I am to live in a country where plenty of opportunities exist for people with disabilities.

The people with disabilities who have job and education opportunities in these countries are far few in between. Most of the pictures tell the stories of individuals who live in poverty and depression due to their blindness or other disabilities. The story that caught my eye (no pun intended) is the one of Shyam Sundar, a man from India who was blinded by Glaucoma. He spends most of the day at home and rarely goes out. “There is nothing to be happy about,” he says.

I consider myself extremely fortunate because unlike Sundar and countless other disabled individuals throughout the world, I was born and grew up in a country where there is an abundance of opportunities for us. As a child, I was able to go to school at no cost to me. I was integrated and included with my sighted peers while receiving Braille and other independent living training. Thanks to this, I was able to study and graduate from college, and am now successfully employed.

I often travel to Mexico to visit my extended family. Each time I go, I am reminded that not all people with disabilities are as fortunate as I have been. In Mexico and many other countries, it is still common to see individuals with disabilities in the streets begging for money. Those who are more fortunate and were able to attend special schools often struggle to be accepted into colleges and universities and even to find jobs.

Of course, the equally pressing issue is that of accessibility. Uneven pavement makes it difficult for those with physical disabilities to move around safely and independently. They are all too often excluded from stores, restaurants, movie theaters and the like, simply because no ramps exist. Even in those rare instances when ramps are available, they are either blocked by parked cars or too steep, making it difficult, even impossible for a wheelchair user to climb. Sidewalks are often blocked by parked cars, food stands, and bicycles, just to mention a few. This can make it extremely difficult for people with visual and physical disabilities to navigate independently and safely.

As a person who is blind, I think that these physical barriers are not the biggest challenge for those with disabilities in Mexico and other countries. The negative attitude that still exists about disabilities all over the world is the major stumbling block for countless individuals. Many cultures still believe that people with any type of disability are sick or helpless and that it is something to be ashamed of, which results in the shunning of this population by their family and friends.

Thanks to advocacy efforts, more awareness exists about disabilities in developing countries. However, there is still a long way to go before we can truly say that all people with disabilities have equal rights. Families, communities and political and religious leaders must begin believing in the potential of these individuals and giving them more education and job opportunities.

The United States is certainly not a paradise for people with disabilities, and a good proof of this is the extremely high unemployment rate that has persisted in this community for many decades. Still, when I read about and see firsthand the exclusion and poverty of people with disabilities, I sure do feel grateful to live in a country where I can be independent and not feel ashamed of my blindness.

Top 5 Benefits of Hiring People with Disabilities

October is national disability and employment awareness month. During the entire month, numerous organizations and advocacy groups throughout the United States hold events to promote and educate employers about hiring of people with disabilities. Below are what many consider to be some of the many reasons and benefits of hiring and including people with vision loss or other disabilities in the workforce.

  1. People with disabilities are reliable employees and have an overall higher job retention rate.

Many studies have shown that people with disabilities take less absence days, and that they are more likely to stay on the job longer than non-disabled workers. Recently, The Chicago Lighthouse studied the retention rate of employees in itsIllinois Tollway call center, which employs people who are blind, visually impaired, disabled and Veterans (as well as people without disabilities.) On average, the employees with vision loss or other disabilities and Veterans had a retention rate of 1.7 years. In contrast, the retention rate for employees without disabilities or that were not Veterans was only 0.9 years.

  1. Employees with disabilities are less likely to get into work related accidents.

Two studies, one from the Department of Labor Statistics during the 1940s and a more recent one from the DuPont company concluded that workers with disabilities had a significantly higher performance in the area of safety than their counterparts without disabilities. In other words, employees with disabilities are more aware and conscientious of safety in the workplace. Both studies looked at different types of jobs, including labor, operational, managerial, clerical and service areas.

  1. Businesses that hire people with disabilities may receive tax credits or other incentives.

Eligible businesses can receive certain tax credits to aid them in hiring and accommodating workers with disabilities. Many of these credits are awarded for expenses incurred in things like purchasing adaptive equipment for workers with disabilities, or covering the costs of any modifications needed to make the building accessible. You can read more about the different types of tax credits and eligibility requirements onthis page from the IRS.

  1. Workers with disabilities will increase diversity in the workplace.

Both workers with and without disabilities benefit equally from a diverse work setting. By working alongside employees with disabilities, individuals who are not disabled will become more aware about how to make the workplace and other settings more inclusive and accessible to everyone. They might consider things they had never thought of before, such as the accessibility challenges faced by people with disabilities. Employees with disabilities can also teach their coworkers about creativity and other ways to solve problems or accomplish different tasks.

  1. People with disabilities are as capable as anyone else!

This is the most simple, but difficult reason for employers to understand about hiring workers with disabilities. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities has constantly hovered at or above 70 percent, even 26 years after the passage of the ADA. Unfortunately, employers often refuse to hire individuals with disabilities, simply because they believe we are not capable of doing the job, or because they are unaware about the many adaptive techniques and devices that are available and allow us to work. Like anyone else, we apply to jobs we believe we are qualified for and capable of doing. If employers have doubts about if or how we will do a particular task, chances are that we have already thought about it and found a solution.

The following page lists common myths about hiring people with disabilities. What other reasons or benefits would you add to this list?

Commentary: Accessible Air Travel for People with Disabilities

Navigating airports and flights can be daunting and hectic for everyone. Now imagine doing this as a blind or disabled passenger. The reality is that as people with disabilities, we often have to take additional factors into consideration. Service dog users will need to find out if and where the animal relief areas are located, while people with mobility impairments might need to request a wheelchair to get on and off the plane. The busy holiday season is just around the corner, and this is an especially good time to consider and respect the rights of travelers with disabilities.

When it comes to boarding or flying in a plane, blind and visually impaired passengers might have additional questions or concerns. Most sighted people can immediately point out the important locations such as bathrooms, emergency exits and so on. Not being able to see means that blind or visually impaired passengers won’t always be able to appreciate these details, unless we ask or someone points them out to us.

For three years, Alaska Airlines has held “mock” flights to help orient blind and visually impaired passengers to the different locations and features commonly found in airplanes. Staff and volunteers verbally describe and guide passengers through the cabin and cockpit. They also walk individuals through the different knobs and buttons above airplane seats.

I have certainly had my share of experiences as a blind traveler. For a reason still mysterious to me, flight attendants often assume my blindness affects my legs. They sometimes ask if I need a wheelchair, and I’m not the only one who gets this question according to fellow blind travelers. When I’m flying with someone else, they will direct the question to them. We’ve learned to simply smile and thank them politely. If I’m by myself, the staff sometimes immediately assumes I need a wheelchair. One time, the person who was going to escort me actually had a wheelchair when he met me at the TSA area and told me to sit down in it. I politely but assertively told him I could walk perfectly fine. After that he got the message, although I imagine he wasn’t too happy about rolling along an empty wheelchair while guiding me!

The Air Carrier Access Act prohibits discrimination from U.S. and foreign airlines traveling to, from or within the United States on the basis of physical or mental disability. To help enforce this policy, flight attendants and other personnel are trained on the rights of disabled passengers and how to provide assistance to this population. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that each year around 21 million travelers have a disability. In 2014, there were 27,556 discrimination complaints against domestic and foreign airlines. Of course, this is without taking into account any minor incidents, like the all too common wheelchair scenario I and countless other blind travelers have experienced!

Training like that held by Alaska Airlines should be done more frequently and by other air carriers. Not only does it benefit blind and visually impaired passengers, but it also helps airport and airline personnel become more aware about our specific needs. The training should also be tailored to those with physical, emotional or intellectual disabilities. After all, the assistance I might request is not necessarily the same as that of a wheelchair user.

Disability awareness orientation and training will become more important in the near future. Each day more and more baby boomers are becoming senior citizens, and the reality is that they might eventually acquire a disability. Naturally, this will lead to an increase of disabled air travelers, and it will become crucial for airlines to accommodate their needs. By providing this training, passengers will be more at ease and satisfied with the travel experience, and staff will comply with the law.

I have never met flight personnel that intentionally discriminate, and I strongly believe that education can go a long way in making them more aware about our desires and needs. In the end, we all want and expect the same thing: to be treated like everyone else. The busy holiday season is just around the corner, and this is an especially good time to consider and respect the rights of travelers with disabilities.