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Changing Our View of Those with Disability Differences
Dr. Dale V. Atkins, January 2006

Many people in our world live with disability differences
Hearing loss, learning or developmental disabilities, visual impairment, and spinal cord injuries are among the multitude of disability differences that set some of us apart from the “norm”. But what is “normal” and how do we form our attitudes about whom or what is “different”?

According to Everybody’s Different by Miller and Sammons (Brookes, 1999), gaining knowledge and acceptance of those with disability differences brings:

• New Awareness of disability differences in others

• Better Understanding of your emotional reactions to those with disability differences

• Increased Skills for interacting with disability differences

It's never too late to change your attitude
It is never too late to gain a new understanding of those with disability differences (or, for that matter, any other preconceived notions you might be harboring.) It is useful to ask yourself how you developed your attitude and who helps you maintain or perpetuate this attitude that you are now challenging. Remember, without challenge there can be no change. Think about what is invested in keeping or hanging onto your former attitudes. How have they served you? In what ways are those attitudes limiting? To whom can you turn to revisit your old attitudes to begin to construct different ones?

Examine your attitude
By examining your attitudes and being open to establishing a new perspective, you can free yourself, your family and your children from a restricted and often stereotypic view of the world and begin to look at people who are different from you with compassion. Remember that your attitude about a person who has a disability difference may have a vast impact on how that person feels about him or herself and how they are viewed by others. By exploring ways in which you can alter your attitude, you will be making a stand for what is right and showing others love, care and support.

Here are some TIPS adapted from the Anti- Defamation League to help you change your attitude toward those with disability differences and to take a proactive stance:

1. Accept Your Feelings – It is normal to have a range of feelings when you think about or encounter someone who has a disability difference. Acknowledging your feelings is essential to making a good decision about what you want to do. Accept all of the feelings you have; even the ones you think are “unacceptable.”

2. Recognize Myths, Beliefs and Assumptions – Most of what we believe about people who have disability differences comes from stories, family lore, and little is based on fact.

3. Speak Out – Be vocal about prejudicial jokes and slurs aimed toward those who have a disability difference. It’s NOT enough to refuse to laugh.

4. Don’t Be a Bystander - Stand up for someone who is targeted for being “different”. Be their ally.

5. Find Support – Discuss your concerns about those who have disability differences with the people themselves when appropriate, with your family, friends, co-workers and peers.

6. Become Educated – Learn about the challenges of those who have disability differences and share what you learn with others.

7. Report Prejudicial Incidents – Accept zero tolerance in the workplace, at school, in the community. Express what you see as unfair.

8. Think Before Reacting to Other’s Prejudicial Comments – Keep calm and don’t respond immediately. Try not to over-react emotionally but first understand your feelings. Then respond appropriately.

9. Exercise Leadership – Model to others exemplary behavior and spread the word about what is and is not okay.

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