Saturday, July 17, 2010


On the show this week I want to address "Equal Ability" from the point of view of those of us who are differently-abled from others. I am a "disability" advocate. I don't even like the word "disability".

Firstly, the very definition of disability implies that someone is missing out on something, that the person with the difference somehow has a "problem" and that either we -- meaning society -- have to make accommodations or that the person with a difference must get themselves fixed in some way (expensive equipment, surgery, personal assistance, years of therapy, medication with harmful side effects, etc.) to be more like others.

At one time, being gay was considered a mental health disorder. Someone wrote a brilliant short story about a person who felt terribly out of place, ashamed about the people to whom they were attracted, they had to hide their difference, pretend to be attracted to the "right" people for their gender. The kicker is that you find out that the difference is that the person is attracted to the opposite gender -- the book is a fictional representation of a place where the societally-advantaged people are homosexual.

In my humble opinion, the vast majority of people aren't broken and don't need to be fixed. It's about how happy they are, and whether or not they hurt anyone.

Let's just imagine if our whole society decided to get along on rollerblades. Suddenly, stairs are a crazy impediment, and evenly sloped ramps an indispensable asset. People in a wheelchair don't look so funny when you remove all stairs from society and stick with ramps and elevators, right?

People who are differently-abled are only at a disadvantage if our society has set them up to be at a disadvantage. So as an advocate I advocate for services BECAUSE society has created the disadvantage. Why don't we have a more open society in the first place? More books in braille and audio. More movies with subtitles -- I can hear just fine and I prefer subtitles on when I'm at home. Better yet, an on-screen sign interpreter -- I'd love that personally. Ramps on every building and every interior door of the correct width for a wheelchair to get through.

How can we raise awareness in our own lives of these differences and make our day-to-day lives, our delivery of services & healing more adaptable to individual differences? When I do in-person events I note whether they're wheelchair accessible to the best of my ability. And I'm a life coach--our main mode of work is to have a conversation. I'm willing to coach in chat and email (not all coaches are!), because I realize that my ASL skills are rusty and I would never say no to a Deaf customer on the grounds that MY communication skills in their language are insufficient. Besides, face-to-face or on-the-phone coaching doesn't fit into everyone's busy schedules anyway.

What small changes can we make so that we give equal -- or at least fairly equal -- access to those with differences compared to the abilities we assume people "normally" have?

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