Perfectly able: common myths about disabilities
Posted on 11 July 2014
Nicky Abdinor is a registered clinical psychologist at Mediclinic Milnerton and an inspirational speaker. She was born without arms, for which there was no medical explanation. Nicky believes supportive parents, a determined personality and inclusion in mainstream education were key factors in overcoming her physical limitations. She dispels some common misconceptions about people with disabilities.
Myth 1: Disability is a devastating personal tragedy.
Disability comes with many challenges and each person comes with their own personality, perceptions and experiences of those challenges. Many people with disabilities lead productive and fulfilling lives that are far from tragic. Disability has moved from a ‘medical model’ to a ‘social model’ perspective – it’s often our social environment, including society’s stigma toward disability and physical barriers (stairs instead of ramps, for example) that make a person more disabled.
Myth 2: All people who use wheelchairs are chronically ill.
The association between wheelchairs and illness probably evolved through hospitals using wheelchairs to transport sick patients. Wheelchairs are an important means for people with physical disabilities to be more mobile and independent but don’t necessarily mean that the owner is ill.
Myth 3: People with disabilities are more comfortable with ‘their own kind’.
People with disabilities want to feel part of society. Social integration and inclusive education are important to encourage equal opportunities. Often people with disabilities enjoy interacting with other people with disabilities (but not exclusively) because they can identify with each other’s challenges.
Myth 4: Able-bodied people are obligated to ‘take care’ of people with disabilities.
Often able-bodied people feel awkward around those with disabilities, as they don’t know how to help. The best approach is to offer assistance and if the person says no, be respectful. Open communication can make people feel more at ease.
Myth 5: Curious children should never ask people about their disabilities.
I often joke that having a physical disability is like being a celebrity – you always attract attention! It’s a normal response for anyone to give a second glance to someone who looks ‘different.’ Answer questions your children may have as honestly as possible. The more you talk to them about disability, the more informed they are.