Adapting the Golden Rule to Include People with Disabilities


We all were introduced to the Golden Rule at a young age. It’s part of Sandbox 101. The first time you grabbed little Johnny’s blue bucket in the sandbox because you wanted it , an adult cited the rule. “Now you wouldn’t like it if someone took your blue bucket away just because he wanted it, would you?” “Well, no,” you replied, with big eyes getting larger as you realized that you couldn’t just grab things from Johnny, who sat there with a smug look on his face through his tears. So you handed the bucket back ( unless you decided to throw a temper tantrum first which is understandable). And that was your introduction to the Golden Rule.

It seems to me that a lot of people never get over that first dislike of this Rule. Look at Enron and corporate game playing. Check out the headlines. Our society often rewards people who don’t follow the Golden Rule and those who do follow it don’t get any outward reward from it. There is, of course, the reward that comes from being spiritually generous. But this feeling only comes through the experience of following the Golden Rule.

No wonder then, that this is a rule that’s difficult to apply when we talk about inclusion and disability. The other day, a college professor left a comment on my post Quad Envy, where I spoke about how some folks just don’t “get” what an aide does – and what receiving help means when you have a disability. I alluded to a type of jealousy on their part about me getting special treatment because I have an aide. As an educator, she wrote, she’s noticed that students in her classes are reluctant (and fail to volunteer) to act as note takers in class for peers with learning disabilities who need that assistance. She remarked that students feel it’s unfair for those with learning disabilities to receive this “advantage”.

Of course, these students (those who question people with disabilities’ need for help) aren’t applying the Golden Rule. They aren’t asking themselves (or each other) the question : How would I want to be treated if I was in that situation? It’s not enough to ask “How do I want to be treated ” as an able bodied person. That’s too rigid and narrow a construction when applied to someone with a learning disability, quadriplegia or cerebral palsy, for example.

If our society cannot learn to ask itself questions in a way that encompasses the idea that, for people with disabilities , being treated equally isn’t the whole equation, everyday relationships between the able bodied and people with disabilities will not be workable. We must all learn to stretch ourselves beyond Sandbox 101 to make inclusion possible.

Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan

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