Being disabled isn't a disaster

Last updated 05:00 05/05/2014
Fairfax Media
DISASTER MODE: The prospect of raising a child who is born disabled or finding out your child has a disability, is treated as something dreadful and calamitous.

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Do New Zealanders accept difference?

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As a mother of a disabled child, I think New Zealanders' views and attitudes towards disability are still stuck in "disaster" mode.

The prospect of raising a child who is born disabled or finding out your child has a disability, is treated as something dreadful and calamitous.

Little effort seems to be put into trying to understand what it would be like to live with a disability,or what might be done to make those lives a bit easier.

Far too much effort is put into creating and maintaining barriers to inclusion, overlooking the enriched knowledge and experiences that come along with that inclusion.

People don't seem to realise that they or their loved ones are only ever an accident or a twist of fate away from joining the "disabled community."

The mere act of aging shifts people from the artificial category of "abled" to "disabled".

I think if people could get past this binary thinking, and recognise that disability is a rather natural, if not inevitable, part of the human condition, then we'd be a step closer to the disabled being treated with dignity and respect.

Instead of being treated like something to be shoved aside or pitied, maybe they'd be treated like the individuals they truly are - leading diverse and often very rich lives, and yet being looked down on by a society that only sees them in terms of what they can't do.

When we intentionally separate these individuals from our society by expecting them to always attend different schools or to end up in institutions rather than providing the support they need to be really included in society, we are just perpetuating the inaccurate view that they aren't part of our world or shouldn't be part of our world.

The public complains about changes to buildings, schools, work places, policies, changes made in order for the disabled to take part in what everyone else takes for granted.

They don't seem to realise that not only will they and their loved ones one day likely benefit from such changes, but that these changes very often end up being in the best interests of even the non-disabled.

For example, when we require our school teachers to up-skill in order to cope with a more diverse classroom, we end up with educators who are more responsive, adaptive, and better problem-solvers.

All students benefit from this, not just the ones who forced the change in the first place.

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When we introduce more comprehensive transition systems within schools to cater to autistic individuals who struggle with change, we create opportunities for teachers to engage with families and future students that leads to a better understanding and relationship between all parties - these sorts of changes are good across the board for how a school functions and performs.

Being on a school's board of trustees has shown me many ways in which a school that adapts to accommodate the disabled, ends up enriching the school experience of the other students.

Similarly, it is my firm opinion and personal experience that engaging with the disabled makes better people of us all - more empathetic, more compassionate, more accepting of diversity as we realise that diversity is not a threat to us. The mere fact that something is different than what we know or are used to, doesn't mean it shouldn't be allowed.

It is extraordinarily healthy to have our perspectives and assumptions - and our usual way of doing things - challenged; it's not as if society is already in some perfect unalterable form that should never be questioned or changed.

Disability is not a disaster, any more than being Maori or being gay or being a woman is a disaster.

When New Zealand society advances to the point where we recognise disability as just part of the spectrum of humanity, and that there is nothing perverse or backwards in finding the beauty, talents and joy in the lives of the disabled, then we will all be better off for it.

The way we view things like disability so often ends up shaping the experience of that thing, changing our attitudes is an excellent place to start making the lives of the disabled - and everyone else in society - that little bit better.

How do you think New Zealanders accept difference in our communities? Share your thoughts by hitting the green button below. 

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