October is a busy month with people showing awareness to several causes, such as domestic violence, breast cancer, bullying prevention, and disability employment. For the sake of this blog post, I am going to talk about disability employment awareness. Millions of people are face with a visible and/or invisible disability. If a person is not directly impacted by a disability, chances are that they know of someone who is. The number of people living with a disability is rising, as many are living longer, due to medical advances. The more people being impacted by disability, the more awareness is being created, diminishing societal stereotypes and biases, right? Actually, no. Stereotypes and biases still exist for individuals with disabilities, causing high unemployment rates, barriers to healthcare, and social isolation. One of the biggest fear of Americans is to attain a disability. Particularly, a study was conducted five years ago polled people on their thoughts of blindness. The majority of the respondents would rather have a major heart attack than acquire blindness. We live in such an abled bodied society, so much that people would rather face a life threatening event than live without eyesight.
This fear is brought about by one thing, stereotypes, which gives way to biases. As humans it is a part of nature to categorize others and place them according to those judgements. It is what we do with those judgements that can be detrimental to a person. If you use those judgements to form stereotypes; knowing how a person will behave and/or act before interacting with them. These believes lead way to biases, preferring one group over another. Biases can be intentional to unintentional. However, unintentional biases does not excuse a person’s actions, thus it is their responsibility to recognize their behavior and take corrective measures. There is a project conducted by Harvard and other Universities to help individuals recognize their unintentional biases. Check out the following link to take the test: implicit.harvard.edu
Knowledge equals power, so do something with that by creating more self awareness. I went to an Autism conference, addressing underserved populations; people of color. One fact that was discussed, pertained to newly acclimated healthcare workers. When asked about their thought regarding those with disabilities, most answered this population was helpless and a burden to society. Helpless and a burden. Two words that invoke maltreatment for those they serve. Being a blind individual with a chronic illness, I felt myself tense up and shake my head. Let me state that having biases does not make you a bad person, it is whether or not you take the effort to change those thought processes that is the defining moment. In many instances, studies have shown that education and trainings do not change a healthcare worker’s point of view right away, but it may shift over time.
Whether or not you take the above test, my question to you, is what are your biases and how have they shown up in your life? Be honest with yourself, if not anyone else. You have the power to change yourself. Time is of the essence, how will you spend it?