Disability Isn’t Scary

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Why would anyone consider disability to be scary?

Well, there are a number of reasons: People are scared of disability because they think  disability is a sign of evil or punishment for an evil act; and/or disability is a type of contagious disease; and/or disability permeates all aspects of a person’s life (deformed in body = deformed in soul and action); and/or disability is a reminder of the unpredictability and fragility of life.

Unfortunately, fear results in prejudice which in turn results in isolation of people with disabilities. What causes fear? Fear is the result of ignorance. Fear is the product of the unknown.

That is why scary movies are scary. Almost all scary movies are about the unknown, the alien, the other reality. Think about any of your favorite scenes in your favorite scary movie. What is behind that door? What is that strange sound? Who is that weird looking person?

If you don’t know what something is, you can’t predict how or what it is going to do. If any organism is confronted by an unknown stimulus, that organism will treat it as a threat. If something is unknown and unpredictable it is something to be eliminated or avoided.

It is the same way with people and disability. Why does that person look and act differently? What are they going to do? Am I expected to do something for them? How do I talk to them? Am I going to say the wrong thing? This ignorance will result in either people with disabilities being avoided or being perceived as the “other,” and treated differently.

And of course, different and prejudicial treatment of people is bound to be explained as a result of their differences or their inability to fit in. Everyone likes to think of themselves as being rational. No one likes to admit that they are scared and that their thoughts and actions are based upon fear.

Fear also works the same way for people with disabilities. What do they think about me? Will I ever be accepted?  Will I ever be normal? How can I do this?

Fear of having a disability and not being accepted can result in people with disabilities trying to hide their disabilities from themselves as well as others. Fear results in people with disabilities limiting themselves, avoiding interactions and not acting upon opportunities or challenges. And perhaps, worst of all, fear can result in limiting someone’s dreams.

In order to eliminate ignorance, which is the root cause of fear, both people with and without disabilities need both education and experience. People without disabilities need to interact with people with disabilities and stop being afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. If you don’t know, ask. Don’t try and anxiously anticipate. Just ask and then listen.

And people with disabilities need to understand themselves and their interaction with their disability. People with disabilities need to be patient. Patient with discrimination or disrespect, but also patient with people asking obvious and even insulting questions. At least they are trying to understand. People with disabilities need to be willing and able to describe themselves and inform their friends, teachers, roommates, coworkers and romantic interests of who they are.

It is all right to be scared and it can even sometimes be fun, but you need to know why you are scared and how it impacts how you view and act in the world. If everyone just keeps trying to understand why they are afraid, perhaps we all will soon find out what is behind that door.

Happy Halloween!

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