By Tomas Vallejo
Disability Pride Month may be over, but that does not mean that disability issues can now be brushed aside until next July. The disability community faces many barriers in their day-to-day lives. Much light is shed on physical barriers such as building accessibility, but an arguably more prevalent barrier exists that must be addressed year-round: attitudinal discrimination. As a society, we are all at fault for not allowing people with disabilities to live a life they deserve, free of pity and other harmful attitudes. Therefore it is up to us to change the attitudes that are commonly held about people with disabilities. This change must begin in one place: the classroom.
While children are often the least prone to discrimination, especially along racial or economic lines, they can sometimes be cruel towards their classmates with disabilities. This is why teaching disability awareness in school is essential in order to correct stereotypical mindsets both at home and in the outside world. According to the World Bank, one billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability. Thus, it is essential that all people learn how to interact and treat people with disabilities with the respect they deserve. Disability awareness programs work to break down social barriers for students with disabilities everywhere.
Disability awareness programs help people everywhere learn how to relate to individuals with disabilities and how to see them as complete people with interests, talents, and opinions. While these programs teach students of all abilities how to respect and interact with their peers who have been diagnosed with disabilities, they also benefit the disability community in a personal way. It is at times hard for people to realize that they in fact are living with a disability. This could be due to a variety of reasons including, but not limited to not knowing how to recognize their disability or simply just hiding their disability from the public due to a fear of being ostracized by their peers. This fear of being ostracized or being treated differently is so grave that it can extend into a person’s adult life. According to the Harvard Business Review, 30% of the professional workforce fits the federal definition of having a disability, and of that disabled workforce population, only 39% have disclosed that fact to their supervisors.
However, this lack of understanding or fear is exactly why disability awareness programs benefit schools and communities so much. As mentioned before, these programs teach students how to recognize disabilities and how to respect and empathize with their peers with disabilities. In schools, these programs can consist of lesson plans as simple as teaching person-first language and spoon theory to using adaptive technology or learning ASL. These programs also serve to teach undiagnosed students with disabilities how to recognize their disabilities and from there they can attain the resources needed to live their fullest lives. The most important benefit of disability awareness programs is the self-love that they instill in students with disabilities, so that feeling of shame because of one’s disability is a thing of the past.
As disability awareness programs continue to spread and gain popularity, schools will continue to grow into safe spaces for students with disabilities outside of the home. Students with disabilities will be surrounded by teachers and peers that understand how to respect their boundaries and how best to accommodate their disability, culminating in the best possible learning experience for these students. The non-disabled students also benefit immensely from these programs due to the experience they will gain from interacting with their peers with disabilities, which will translate very well into their future professional lives, where 30% of their coworkers may very well have a disability. While disability awareness programs may not solve the lack of accessibility or inclusion present, it is a great start.