Stamping out stereotypes

“Stereotyped views frequently act as self-fulfilling prophecies, forcing the
person with a disability into a role that can then be used to justify the original
treatment.”
-Disabled We Stand, A.T. Sutherland

Last night at the dinner with my Ski for LIght* friends, there were seven tables of guests. Our table consisted of a few guides, five blind people and one quadriplegic. It was a lively table, full of much laughter and activity. Guests at the other tables were able bodied.

About halfway through dinner, I noticed people looking over at our table from the other tables and smiling. This was a switch from the beginning of the night, when most of the guests looked away. Then a few people wandered over from the Sons of Norway table to ask us about our ski trips.

WIthin ten minutes or so, the people at the table closest to my chair began to join one of our conversations. Then a few others moved their chairs so that they were, technically speaking, at our table. By this time, a number of people from our table had joined in the dancing.

By the end of the night, the lines of demarcation that I often encounter at social events seemed to have evaporated. Several of the hosts visited at our table and, as other guests bid their farewells, we met quite a few of them and chatted.

I strongly believe that many stereotypes do act as self-fulfilling prophecies which may force us into certain roles. One of these stereotypes is that people with disabilities are tragic figures. A corollary of that is that we are no fun to be around and not people you would invite to a party.

Nothing is further from the truth. People with disabilities are no different than anyone else. Given the opportunity, others can see that. When we are literally put into close quarters near able bodied people who have not been around us before, it is amazing to watch how their stereotypes about us start to dissolve.

Therein lies the solution, but the difficulty can be that the social exclusion which we still face as people with disabilities does not provide enough opportunities to literally get into the door for many of us so that we can disprove these stereotypes. This is added to by the fact that many of us become socially isolated due to poverty and lack of access to equipment or transportation.

Too few of us have the opportunities and resources to “mingle” , for lack of a better word, out in society in the way that I experienced last night. As a result, erroneous stereotypes still abound. It is not just our loss that this occurs, but the loss of society in general, although most people will never know that truth.

*Ski for Light is an organization that provides opportunities for visually impaired and mobility impaired individuals to ski with the assistance of sighted guides.

Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan

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