People with mental and physical disabilities have been condemned, alienated, even feared, perhaps more than any other group throughout history – their disability explained away, overtly or subconsciously, as a punishment from God, inferior genetics, bad karma, dishonour on the family, or simply being backwards. Their options have been severely limited and they’ve had to live and work in conditions that could accommodate their disability – unless of course their disability could be used as a reason to bar them from employment in the first place. Obviously, this is made worse if they are from a poor background, resulting in destitution or a reliance on charity – not least because, in the UK, life costs £550 more on average a month if you’re disabled. And it’s not just here: unfortunately 80 per cent of the global disabled population currently lives in the world’s poorest countries.
Prejudice against people with disabilities is often more subtle than against certain ‘others’, but it is nonetheless still there. At the height of the popularity of the sci-fi TV series The X-Files, there was an episode titled ‘Quagmire’ in which Agent Mulder tells Agent Scully that he would have liked to have been born disabled, so he wouldn’t be expected to work as hard and would be considered ‘courageous’ for even holding down a job, let alone thriving in one. An article by the National Collaborative Workforce and Disability (NCWD) describes the ignorant tone of this episode and its reflection of wider societal attitudes:
The fact that a respected character on one of America’s most popular television shows expressed this viewpoint exemplifies the rampant attitudinal barriers hindering people with disabilities in or trying to enter the workforce. People with disabilities face many barriers every day – from physical obstacles in buildings to systemic barriers in employment and civic programs. Yet, often, the most difficult barriers to overcome are attitudes other people carry regarding people with disabilities. Whether born from ignorance, fear, misunderstanding or hate, these attitudes keep people from appreciating – and experiencing – the full potential a person with a disability can achieve.
The article goes on to explain the complexities of attitude change, and how it is not possible to legislate for this. It states that the best way to change the way that those with disabilities are viewed is to increase their visibility and familiarity – in the workplace, socially, in education, and at home. By addressing these issues head-on, we open up greater opportunities not only for those directly affected by disability, but for everyone.
From Diversify by June Sarpong. Copyright (c) 2017 by the author and reprinted by permission of Harper Collins Publishers.
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