What is a Disability?
Discriminating a person with a disability, by concept, is a practice of treating someone differently because they present physical differences (such as a lack of arms, legs) or psychological differences (such as someone with autism or down syndrome). The big problem with this theme is that many people with disabilities suffer from their exclusion from society.
According to equalityhumanrights.com, there are several forms of discrimination of this type: being discriminated against for having a disability, being discriminated against for relating to people with physical or psychological disabilities, or being excluded because others believe that the person is discriminated against. In addition, there can be direct discrimination (when someone is prejudiced by a disability) or indirect (when a specific location has some guideline that excludes people with disabilities indirectly).
Types of Deficiencies
There are many psychological and physical deficiencies, I will cite the main ones:
• Autism: is a disorder that interferes with the ability to learn, communicate and also adapt to different situations. It is a psychiatric problem that is usually identified in childhood. It is normal for those with symptoms of autism to have difficulty speaking, expressing what they feel, they do not appreciate noisy environments and do not like touch (like hugs, handshakes);
• Down syndrome: through genetic differences (excess chromosomal material), this syndrome leads to cognitive difficulties and different physical characteristics (flat nose, short hands and fingers, short stature, smaller eyes), in your health and also in your behavior. There are several levels of this syndrome, however many of them are affectionate and sociable when treated well by family, friends and colleagues;
• Difficulties in speaking and hearing: not all deaf people are mute, but there are those who neither speak with sound nor hear. People with this problem communicate in sign language. In the United States there is ASL (American Sign Language), but sign languages are not universal (each country follows a language);
• Blind People: there are partial blindness (in which people see shapes and identify a certain level of light), total blindness (which is a null vision), there is night-time blindness (difficulty in seeing in low light environments). Blindness can be congenital (which appears at birth) or acquired (either from an accident or from diseases such as glaucoma and cataracts);
• People without any member of the body (legs, hands, arms): either due to lack of development of any member of the body in their training as a baby or in physical accidents. There are prostheses that can serve as alternatives, however this equipments are very expensive, as it involves high technology in its creation and production;
• Intellectual disabilities: in addition to down syndrome and autism, there are other cognitive disabilities that make people have difficulty relating or entering the labor market. Intellectual disability can be congenital or due to disorders that are harmful to brain development. People with this type of disability have a much lower mental functioning than most people and, consequently, have serious difficulties in socializing, learning and practicing certain simple daily tasks.
Indifference in Society on the Subject
Treating those who differ from most people in a special way is necessary for their inclusion. I understand that this is not discrimination, but dealing with different people in specific ways. The biggest example of this is in accessibility architectural projects (such as the use of ramps for those who need wheelchairs or physical demarcations for blind people to feel where they are walking). The keyword of the “disabled person discrimination” problem is inclusion. In this, I realize that we have to grow a lot as a society, not just in the United States.
For this advance in the integration and involvement of people with physical or psychological disabilities in society as a whole, awareness is needed; it means all people stepping out of their ordinary everyday thinking and seeking empathy. Not only do you expect health authorities, city halls, ministries that deal with social issues; however, each one seeks their contribution to this theme.
In my opinion, this is the main point: ignore the problem. How many people are looking to take communication courses with deaf people, for example (the well-known ASL – American Sign Language)?
The lack of empathy for people with physical disabilities, therefore, leads to an increase in regrettable prejudice, generating fewer employment opportunities for this group, less inclusion and integration in society; that is, marginalization.
When we think about better conditions for people with disabilities, it is common to remember architectural projects. Not taking into account the importance of access ramps, signs, adapted restrooms, floors with tactile grooves; but this is the smallest of solutions. People with disabilities, whether physical or mental, feel different from anyone else because it is a reality: like a difficulty walking or expressing themselves with those who do not have the same characteristics. With this, there is already in many an internal struggle to accept themselves and, to make matters worse, people treat it either with contempt or with pity. This is the worst problem, because it generates psychological illnesses such as depression, anxiety, unwillingness to live.
If depression is a disease that has increased in humanity, I keep imagining these numbers in those who are already excluded because of the lack of a member of the body, for example. Awareness of all who deal with people with disabilities is necessary and the main attitude to be taken is to treat them like any other (without pity or contempt), but seeking their inclusion.
There are certain roles that need specific profiles that would limit opportunities to different people, for example, a specialist heart surgeon who needs his hands to perform surgery (although technology advances a lot and offers opportunities that previously did not exist for a physically disabled person); not only the physical issue, but also the psychological part, as it requires a prolonged level of training. It is clear that this exemplified restriction does not consist of discrimination, but how many professions are there currently that could be exercised or better provided for people with physical or psychological disabilities? I understand that awareness about this is inevitable, as concepts are often created in the job interview that lead the employer to imagine that a person with a disability cannot perform such a function. With that, this subject goes far beyond laws and rights, but we change our culture on the subject.
We are talking about prejudice against people with physical and psychological disabilities, however the problem is even greater: the tendency to judge in advance, for example, different behaviors, unusual clothing without first knowing how the person is. It is as if we marked the people who are able to relate to us, exercise a certain function, perform a certain task and those that are not according to our understanding and simply exclude them (and that without even knowing who is behind a certain difference).
I had an experience of my own, in which I worked at a large company which hired an administrative assistant with down syndrome. I remember how important he was not only for his tasks that were well executed, but the inclusion and unity he generated in the team. Without him, the sector would be different and, even so, I saw many colleagues not knowing how to react with someone different. This behavior needs to be matured in society.
All this behavior of ignoring the problem in society has aggravated the psychological condition of many people. According to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), in 2018, there is a study in the United States that reports that people with disabilities suffer more from mental illness than people without any physical or mental disability. The survey estimated that 17.4 million adults with a disability experienced frequent mental illnesses (such as depression and anxiety). In addition, these mental problems lead to less sleep, heart disease and diabetes. With the recent pandemic, these conditions have possibly worsened, due to the greater isolation of people. Therefore, dealing with this matter is a matter of public health.
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What Then Should We Change?
When thinking of solutions to combat discrimination against people with physical and psychological disabilities, I believe that developing this theme (empathy) is essential for a society transformed at this point, especially in schools. We must develop in cultures a habit of seeking to see the reality of other people. Ignorance and selfishness are, in practice, antonyms with empathy. Talking about this in such an abstract way does not seem to lead to anything, however this is the basis that must be built so that each one contributes to the inclusion of everyone in society. It is with this or through this that projects, NGOs, courses and many opportunities will arise for people who cannot hear or see, for example.
May this article contribute to your reflection on the theme, but also in your daily practice. Look for the best insertion of your friends, relatives and colleagues who have some difference from common sense.