Common Myths and Misconceptions About Disability Myths, stereotypes and stigma about disability are barriers to the realization of the human rights of people with disabilities. Disabled Peoples’ International Myths and misconceptions about disability are common. These incorrect assumptions are often triggered by fear, lack of understanding and/or prejudice. Promoting negative images of disability is a form of discrimination because it creates barriers to full citizenship for people who have a disability. Common myths and stereotypes that emerge repeatedly in society include the following assumptions. Myth: A person’s disability defines who they are as an individual. People often label individuals with a disability according to their condition or limitations. It is common in our daily lives to hear references such as “the disabled” or “the epileptic.” Individuals with disabilities are people first. Remember the slogan “Label Jars, Not People.” Myth: People with disabilities are sick and in constant pain. People with disabilities are like people without disabilities. People get sick on occasion or sometimes may be in pain. People with disabilities typically do not suffer or experience pain due to their condition. Myths and Misconceptions About Disability: Together We Rock! 1 Myth: People with disabilities are brave, courageous and inspirational for living with their disability. People with disabilities are often portrayed as superhuman or courageous as they triumph over adversity. George Covington, a writer who is blind, has said, “We’re seen as inspirational, and inspiration sells like hotcakes. My disability isn’t a burden: having to be so damned inspirational is.” Myth: People with disabilities are special and should be treated differently. The label of “special” in reference to a person with a disability does not convey equality. Expectations for success should not be underestimated to accommodate the “special” label that is associated with people with disabilities. Myth: Disability is a personal tragedy and deserves our pity. Disability is often viewed as an unending burden. People with disabilities are often viewed as tragic figures whom society should pity. Disability does not mean a poor quality of life. It is often the negative attitudes of society and the lack of accessibility within the community that are the real tragedy. Myths and Misconceptions About Disability: Together We Rock! 2 Myth: People with disabilities are dependent and always need help. All of us may have difficulty doing some things and may require assistance. People with disabilities may require help on occasion; however, disability does not mean dependency. It is always a good strategy not to assume a person with a disability needs assistance. Just ask! Myth: People with disabilities want to associate with each other. Relationships and friendships are a matter of personal choice. People with disabilities may share similar characteristics; however, it should not be assumed that everyone wants to associate or develop friendships with each other. Myth: People are confined to their wheelchair. People with disabilities typically do not view themselves as “confined” to their wheelchair. In the same way, a person without a disability is not described as confined to their car. A wheelchair, like an automobile, is a form of mobility that contributes to a person’s independence. Myths and Misconceptions About Disability: Together We Rock! 3 Myth: People with disabilities are a one-dimensional group. There are societal assumptions that tend to view people with disabilities as a one-dimensional group who all have the same needs, interests and opinions. People with disabilities reflect the same diversity that exists in the rest of society, including varying social, economic, cultural, family and educational characteristics. The viewpoints expressed by an individual with a disability are not representative of those of all people with disabilities. Myth: People with disabilities cannot lead a full and productive life. People with disabilities are capable of fully participating in community life. The challenge is to focus on a person’s ability, not their limitations. Researchers at Dawson College and MacKay Centre in Montreal remind us: “Mechanics who are blind, nurses who are wheelchair users, teachers who are hard of hearing, painters without arms, and chemists with shaky limbs -it’s all been done!” Myths and Misconceptions About Disability: Together We Rock!
This weekend the UK celebrated Mother’s Day, that time of year when motherhood is celebrated and gifts, flowers and special gestures are presented to mothers. But motherhood isn’t easy, especially if you have a disabled child. Should mothers who give up their disabled child be blamed? Raya Al-Jadir explores…
I have read many articles, reports and blogs over the years about the difficulties that mothers with disabled children endure and, while it is also satisfying, the media’s portrayal of the struggles seems to have overshadowed many of the positives.
Such articles only serve to increase a feeling that already exists within many disabled people – guilt and dependency. For years I have carried the guilt of being a heavy load on my mother, an almost ‘burden’ on a woman who has never left my side, accompanied me to every hospital appointment, cared for me 24/7 and stayed by my bedside when I was ill. These images are always in my head and will haunt me – images of her sleeping on a hospital chair next to me, or pulling herself out of bed to care for me. She’s even coped with people’s negative attitudes towards me, all the while never allowing me to know about it.
I am sure I am not the only person living with disability who has these feelings. We see our mothers getting older and weaker and automatically find ourselves to blame for their back pain or weak legs. There is no escape from this guilt as the care is continuous.
This feeling of guilt is exasperated by the media and society as we are constantly exposed to the idea that a mother who gives up her disabled child is selfish and cruel, and the ones that don’t are some kind of martyrs doing an honourable act that not most people couldn’t cope with.
But both images are wrong. Not every mother who gives up her disabled child is selfish as not every mother is equipped to cope with raising a disabled child. Therefore, maybe it is out of love that she sacrifices her motherhood to ensure their child has the best care, away from this feeling of guilt. Such details don’t seem to be important to those people who judge others purely on this act, disregarding the special and unique circumstances of each individual.
In a similar manner, not every mother who chooses to keep her child should be praised – would we hail mothers of able-bodied children for keeping them? Why the discrimination? In addition, just as the mother is giving her all to her child, she also gains many things from her disabled child, for example, the continuous sense of purpose that mothers receive from having a disabled child.
The irony of both society and the media’s attitudes lies in the fact that they portray mothers of disabled children as over worked, sacrificing and struggling, yet shun the most brutal attacks on mothers who take the difficult decision of giving up their child. What message does this attitude send out? That you as a mother of a disabled child you will suffer but be admired – they must accept their fate or be labelled as heartless and selfish?
I wonder if people who make such hasty judgements have ever thought about the responsibility and sometimes stress that may result from having a disabled child, not necessary due to the special care that is required, but from people’s behaviour and attitude towards the child. As a toddler people often stared at me and made comments that mother often heard. These comments used to make her feel like a ‘failure’, as though all mothers passed a great test of having a healthy child except her, and she was somehow to blame. Not every person is equipped to cope with such attitudes.
My mother has a strong character and support system, but not everyone is as fortunate. I recently come across two newspaper articles that talked about two mothers who have disabled sons, both born with Down’s Syndrome. One gave up her son at birth as in Armenia you are given the option of whether you want to go home with your child or leave him/her for the hospital to find a family willing to adopt him.
The other mother kept her son, who is now 47 years old, but regretted her decision – she would rather aborted him or given him up for adoption had she known the strain and struggle she would endure. She commented: “While I do love my son and am fiercely protective of him, I know our lives would have been happier and far less complicated. I’d have probably gone on to have another baby, we would have had a normal family life and Andrew my other son would have the comfort, rather than the responsibility of a sibling after we’re gone.” The mother explains all the physical, mental and emotional impact it had on her, even suffering a nervous breakdown.
Therefore as a disabled person, I can understand why some mothers would rather give their child up and, in my view, it is better to let go of your child than bring him/her up with resentment and anger. The child will sense this and feel the strain, the feeling of guilt will grow and nurture within the child, resulting in a miserable situation for all the parties involved.
Giving away a disabled child is not always a selfish act – your love for the child will guide you to sacrifice motherhood so the child can receive the love and care that you may not be able to provide. We are all born differently, with various abilities and strengths, and not every mother has an instant coping mechanism ready for if the child is disabled, and that is not wrong. It is something you either have or you don’t, similar to being born with a certain feature. Just because we may not all have it, then it does not make us abnormal.
Motherhood is a great thing, but it is not for everyone, and certainly not in the same fashion. I for one have never felt that maternal instinct or wanted a child, although I love my niece and nephew. But I know motherhood is not for me. That does not make me selfish. it is just a choice that I feel is more suited to my lifestyle.
In a similar manner, mothers who bring up their disabled child are as free as the ones who give them up. Neither are wrong and should not be judged just because we are not living their situation or know their full story.
By Raya Al-Jadir
A Massachusetts mom with a “mild intellectual disability” won a two-year historic legal battle Monday and was reunited with the baby who was taken from her at 2 days old and placed in foster care.
Sara Gordon, a pseudonym for the now 21-year-old mother, had been told by Massachusetts child welfare officials in 2012 that she was unable to care for her daughter because of her disability. While still in the hospital, according to official records, Gordon had missed a night feeding because she couldn’t read the clock and she failed to burp the baby properly.
Officials also said the young mother was “uncomfortable” changing the baby’s diaper right after childbirth, according to a federal civil rights investigation. The decision to return the toddler to her mother could have far-reaching implications for developmentally disabled parents.
Lawyers for Gordon and her parents told TODAY the family was “giddy” over the news.
“I felt like a kid before Christmas,” Sara said through her lawyer, Mark Watkins of Shutesbury.
“I have never seen anything like this in my 24 years,” said Watkins.
Gordon lives with her parents, Kim and Sam Gordon, whose offers to help the little girl, known as “Dana,” were rejected by child welfare officials, even after her grandmother retired early.
“They said I had to choose between my daughter and my granddaughter,” Kim Gordon told TODAY. “That’s not right. I should be able to have both.”
The Department of Justice agreed and concluded the state acted illegally.
“[Gordon] is a loving, caring, and conscientious mother who is willing to do whatever it takes to have her daughter in her life,” according to the report. “There is no discernible reason … that [she] and her parents do not have the ability to care for her child safely.”
On Monday, a judge in closed family court granted custody to the now 2-year-old’s grandmother.
Dana, a blond-haired, blue-eyed toddler, is adjusting well and seems to know her family, according to Kim Gordon.
“When we first picked up the baby, she reached right out to my daughter,” she said. “She knows her mom. And now my daughter is learning to be a parent with no one looking over her.”
Until now, the family has only had one-hour supervised visitations with the baby.
“It’s been very hard,” said Kim Gordon. “There’ve been nights when I went to bed crying. We didn’t know if we would win or lose.”
The grandparents’ lawyer, Kally Walsh of Springfield, said, “This family got guardianship because they are remarkable. These people prevailed over two years of being told, ‘no,’ without the smallest increment of help with their granddaughter.”
Last June, the family filed a federal complaint, saying the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families had illegally discriminated against their disabled daughter.
In January, the Justice Department and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a written report ordering state officials to support Gordon’s efforts to be a mother or face a federal lawsuit.
The report also demanded compensation for the family and cited child welfare policy changes that must be implemented by the state.
DCF spokeswoman Cayenne Isaksen told TODAY her agency would provide support services “going forward.”
“The primary responsibility of the Department of Children and Families is protecting children and ensuring that they are able to grow and thrive in a safe and nurturing environment while acting in their best interest,” Isaksen said in a statement.
“The department is always seeking ways to enhance its practices and policies to ensure that we are doing the very best we can to support our children and families, and we look forward to working collaboratively with the DOJ about their decision.”
An estimated 4.1 million parents have disabilities in the United States — roughly 6.2 percent of all parents with children under 18, according to the National Council on Disability. Removal rates for children whose parents have an intellectual disability can be 40 to 80 percent, the council estimates. The Dana case could change that.
The council attorney, Robyn Powell, said this is the first time the federal government has taken a stand in a case involving a parent with disabilities.
“We are thrilled with the results, but I wish it had never come to this,” she said. “It’s heart-wrenching that the family was separated for so long based solely on the presumption that the mother was unfit because she had a disability.”
Gordon’s developmental disability requires “repetition and hands-on instruction” to learn new tasks and she has difficulty reading and following oral instructions, according to the federal report.
But she has passed a state-approved CPR test and parenting classes and is finishing her high school degree.
Powell said the case against Gordon was “egregious” and not “unique,” applauding federal intervention. “This could have far-reaching implications. These things happen all the time. Attorneys across the country are really taking notice.”
Meanwhile, a week into the reunion, Kim Gordon said Dana is calling her family “Mama,” “Grandma” and “Gramp.”
“The hardest thing for me in the last two years was sending my granddaughter back to that foster home,” she said. “Now, we don’t have to let her go. We can keep her.”
“We were discriminated [against] a lot,” she said of raising Sara. “But I raised my daughter to be herself and accept that. She is the best, after everything she has been through. She’s a wonderful mom.”
In February, a user on 4chan posted about their encounter with a man at a concert, who was ridiculed for dancing and quickly stopped when he noticed people were laughing at him. The user posted before and after photos of the man, saying “spotted this specimen trying to dance the other week. He stopped when he saw us laughing.”
The photo was reposted onto Imgur on Wednesday by a user called FrozenBadger. They wrote, “I find this behavior fucking despicable. If you’re out there big man, fuck those kids. Keep dancing.”
Many other people on 4chan, Reddit and social media shared the user’s opinion, who called out the original poster for bullying the man when he was simply trying to have a good time.
The Free Thought Project writer Cassandra Fairbanks decided to launch a personal campaign to find the dancing man and arrange “something special” for him. In a mere 24 hours, thousands of female Twitter users joined Fairbanks in her search, using the hashtag #FindDancingMan.
An open letter to the dancing man began to circulate, detailing a major dance party the women wanted to throw to not just boost the man’s self esteem but also send a strong message against body shaming.
On Friday morning, Fairbanks was sent a strong lead on the identity of the dancing man, who lives in London. After getting in contact with him via social media, the dancing man finally revealed himself to his thousands of Internet fans, and they were very happy to see him.
The man, who’s first name is Sean, accepted Fairbanks’ offer for a dance party — as soon as he is back from a trip to Kiev. Because he can dance if he wants to. He can leave 4chan behind.
Sometimes, the Internet really is a wonderful place.
UPDATE: March 6, 2015, 4:10 p.m. EST: Singer Pharrell Williams has also sent his support to Fairbanks and Sean the dancing man with a post on Twitter. Let’s hope the “Happy” artist will also be on the dance party guest list.