People with disabilities are treated differently, from being avoided and ignored, to being categorized as weak and incapable. We have a long way to go to create a more inclusive and accepting environment, and hopefully highlighting the 8 myths below can help to encourage the kind of change that’s necessary.
1. Being disabled means you have a visible issue or impairment that impacts you physically or hinders your motor functions.
Many people in the disabled community have invisible disabilities. This term comprises a variety of conditions and issues that can greatly impact someone’s life. Judging people for using certain equipment or strategies to deal with their disability when it may not be obvious that they have one can be a form of harmful ableism. People with invisible disabilities can often face discrimination due to this clouded mindset.
2. Only a small number of people are disabled.
According to The World Bank roughly 15% of the world population lives with a disability. This equates to more than 1 billion people. The disabled community is one of the largest minority groups in the world yet still remains marginalized by a lack of accessibility across many aspects of society.
3. People who have disabilities are all brave for “living with” their disabilities.
This can be one of the most frustrating misconceptions for those with disabilities. Having a disability can certainly add additional concerns and issues but simply living life that way is not a “triumph”. This outlook serves to degenerate the disabled community and create an association that life with a disability is an unfulfilling chore, when rather, living under those circumstances can be just as rewarding, enjoyable, and fulfilling as that of anyone else.
4. The blue badge and accessible parking spaces are only for people with visible mobility issues.
This misconception is part of the assumption that you must have a visible disability to use accessible areas/features or adaptive products. This can become an issue when using accessible parking. Well-intentioned people may end up accusing others for using an accessible parking space unlawfully when in fact they have a blue badge. A similar complication arises with regard to electronic shopping cars, pool lifts, and other accessible elements when a person with a less visible/invisible disability is using them.
5. People who use wheelchairs are weak and have a chronic illness.
This assumption is something created by a simplistic connection made between illness and the use of a wheelchair. The use of a wheelchair could be for any number of reasons; many of which have no links to chronic illness or physical frailty. This stereotype runs the risk of degrading and dehumanizing those who use wheelchairs by associating it to weakness or being sickly. It can also perpetuate the belief that those in wheelchairs need non-disabled people to assist them.
6. People with disabilities can’t have jobs or do high level work.
Inclusion and representation in the workplace has been a long standing issue for the disabled community. The societal barriers and discrimination experienced in the hiring process create an unfortunate reality where many are unable to gain personal and financial independence through employment. It becomes an especially concerning issue when qualified and capable members of the disabled community are turned down from jobs due to this stigma that lingers. With only 17.9% of persons with disabilities holding employment, there is clearly work to be done and improvements to be made, but this is not to say that those with disabilities are less able to perform and succeed in the workforce.
7. The word “disabled” or “disability” is offensive or improper to use.
The language surrounding the disabled community is important. Ableism is rampant and is often applied through harmful words and phrases. There is a common misconception held that the words “disability” or “disabled” are bad words. On the contrary, many of those in the disabled community embrace these words, arguing that it is a defining factor in who they are. Using workaround phrases and terms to describe a person with a disability – differently-abled, special needs – usually does nothing except prevent disability inclusion from being a part of the picture.
8. All of the Deaf and hard of hearing communities can read lips.
The ability to read lips is not universal for those who are Deaf or hard of hearing and even so can only be partially reliable for those using this method. Knowing this makes it clear we need to concentrate on additional forms of communication and accommodation like captions, transcripts, ASL interpreters, and more. The difficulty of lip-reading has become even more cumbersome with mask wearing during the pandemic, which has nearly eliminated the option of lip reading for those who use it. Therefore, it’s important to consider the alternatives and realize that people have different preferences for communication, meaning our methods should vary.