Educate the young about disability to reduce stigma, prejudice and discrimination.

In my everyday caring role I investigate the world-wide-web for information and news relating to anything that empowers, enlightens and educates Emily or myself. Today I read that the National Spinal Cord Injury Association, will gather in Washington, D.C. for Roll on Capitol Hill to shape policies that impact the health, independence and quality of life of people living with spinal cord injuries and disordersMy interest was piqued and I wanted to read their agenda. Listed below are the issues to be discussed:

  • Ensuring increased medical access
  • Expanding home and community-based services and supports
  • Improving access for housing modifications
  • Providing accessible transportation for all
  • Increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities
  • Ensuring civil rights protections

I applaud all the points above and support discussion on all levels so that legislation, guidelines and policies are developed that service the disabled in society, ensuring their empowerment and inclusion. But I have an idea; if children are educated about disability in school maybe they would grow up to be more considerate, maybe they would grow up to naturally incorporate the needs of people with disabilities into their businesses, incorporate the needs of the disabled and carers into workforce guidelines and training, maybe foster respect for the disabled and their carers within society?

The younger that children are exposed to disability the more normal it appears to them. A lovely example of this was when Emily was in Royal North Shore Hospital (RNSH) a girlfriend visited with a little boy she was looking after for the day. This mini man was wary of Emily and shied away until he had completely reassured himself that Emily’s wheelchair wasn’t scary. When it was time to leave he sat on Emily’s lap for a cuddle which brought an emotional tear as a meaningful moment for all present.  Our friend returned with her charge some days later, he played happily with his dinosaur on the grass quadrangle outside RNSH, bathed in warm sunshine. After a lengthy natter, it was decided we would move indoors for a cup of thirst quenching tea. This small lad jumped up excitedly at the prospect of a treat and ran ahead calling out “Come on Emily, come on Emily!” as she was slower pushing her chair than his little running legs! Exposure to wheelchair users is the simplest way of educating communities and society, exposure reveals people with disabilities are real people living real lives, able and confident, funny and curious, interesting, studious, frivolous, musical.  Disabled people are beautiful and strong, brave and intelligent; just like the rest of the population. It isn’t difficult to see this but you have to be looking and some people need to be shown.

Schools need to promote disability awareness and ability within disability. Education would help eliminate prejudice and discrimination as future generations become more informed and inclusive, aiding change; change in children’s developing values.  Helping to reduce the stigma of wheelchairs and the disabled, instilling a positive attitude to this minority group.

June 10th  – The students from Harrison’s S.J. Preston Elementary School recently participated in the first Disability Awareness Day. All of Preston’s students had the opportunity to experience visual, fine-motor, and physical impairments through numerous activities. See here 

The Guardian, April 13th – Nothing is more important than teaching compassion. Teaching schoolchildren happiness, empathy, altruism and compassion has proven beneficial results for classroom learning as a whole. See here

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The stigma of wheelchair use decreases with awareness and education. The wheelchair user’s opportunities are increasing when prejudice and discrimination are reduced by enlightenment.

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It’s going to take the global community to address the disabled.

It may take a village to raise a child but it is going to take the global village, our worldwide community to ensure people with disabilities are cared for and their needs addressed so that they can thrive integrated into society.

The meaning of the proverb ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ is simply that it takes more than one person to teach a child the lessons of life. The benefits of many varied carers for a person with a disability is the same as the benefit of the village to a growing child, bringing a wealth and variety of learning.

A wealth and variety of services have to be accessible for the integration of people with disabilities into society. The infrastructure of society; public transport, airports, schools and hospitals, shops and recreational facilities have to be accessible.  Service provision has to be addressed by individuals, local council, state, federal and the greater global community.

My husband and I recently had lunch in town, at a popular Italian. The queue starts half an hour before the restaurant doors open,  imagine our hunger as the waitress sat us down and took our anticipated order. It is in this environment that a wheelchair user would be sidelined as only half the restaurant is accessible, the other half is up a steep flight of steps. There are probably only one or two tables that are appropriate as the traffic of diners and waiters have to pass behind the wheelchair, so what is the etiquette here? Can a wheelchair user book a table? Does a wheelchair user just have to wait for the two appropriate tables? Is it an open and shut case of move on to the next restaurant or come back tomorrow an hour before opening time? It takes the community to decide the etiquette as I would allow wheelchair users to book but that could be argued as discrimination against non wheelchair users that are asked to queue. Society as a whole has to understand the issues for people with disabilities so they can make informed choices as town planners, road, pavement and ramp designers, also those in the construction and building industry. Recreational providers need to address fixed poolside hoists as standard equipment. Theaters and sports facilities need to address access and designated parking nearby. Restaurant owners need to address their in-house policy towards wheelchair accessible tables and allow booking. My list is too long to share in a blog but you get the gist. It takes parents, teachers, restaurant managers, councils, politicians along with corporations, industries and organizations to assist disabled individuals ability to thrive in a considerate community, thrive in a society in which they can access and fully interact.

The world is changing, evolving, so let’s make sure that society and our global leaders make the right choices; legislate for access, make transit choices, make funding choices that facilitate the inclusion of people with disabilities. When life is accessible, the disabled and their carers can work, play sport, travel, book a table for dinner with greater ease  – that has to be embraced globally.

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