When I was first diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, my occupational therapist apparently told my mom that I would be a great man trapped in a disabled body. I don’t remember this because I was 9 months old, but in a weird way, I agree with her. It’s not that I have a poor body image, or that I haven’t accepted my disability, but in a lot of ways my outer appearance doesn’t match my self image.
As a journalist, I’ve often had to work on recording audio for interviews. Hearing my voice on these recordings has always been weird to me. It turns out that my voice is much higher pitched than I anticipated, and I sound more feeble than I think of myself. Because of my voice, I can understand why people jump to conclusions about my intellectual capability, although it frustrates me when people do it. What bothers me most is I often catch myself jumping to the same conclusions if I don’t understand a situation.
Since I am a disability advocate, I attend many related conferences. Compared to other attendees, I am doing well. I’ve been blessed with many opportunities that many people with disabilities still don’t have. I have a strong and supportive family, and qualify for many government services, which means more help. I have lots of assistive devices that many people don’t have access to. I have also graduated from college with honors, something that is also out of reach for some people.
If anyone is to ignore stereotypes about disabilities, it should be me. But here I am, often battling the same prejudice in my own behavior. It terrifies me to think that I might be in some ways perpetuating the same behavior that I’m trying to change in others. How can I expect them to change, if I’m not able to change myself. The problem with stereotypes and prejudice, is that they seem to come about naturally.
Scientists, such as Paul Bloom and others have begun to study the formation of ethics in very young children. It turns out that this subject is more complicated than we anticipated. Scientists have always thought that people began as blank slates in the womb, and learned prejudice as they grew up. According to scientists, babies do have a sense of morality, but they also develop prejudice towards themselves and people like them. Soon after they’re born, babies start dividing the world between the group they’re in and everyone else. They treat their group better than the other groups. This explains especially why I was uncomfortable with the disability community when I was younger. Why wouldn’t I try to fit in with my peers without disabilities, when they have so many advantages.
The problem I still face, as shown by the experience with my voice, is that I don’t quite fit in with those without disabilities. But yet, I am more highly functional than those with disabilities. This is one area where my original therapist was right. It’s very difficult for me to be in this middle category. I fall between the cracks a lot of the times. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gravitated towards the disability community, because I can do more good there than I can in other communities. I hope that my position in between those with severe disabilities and those without disabilities gives me the ability to change minds on both sides of the spectrum.
There is one piece of good news on the baby research, and that is that education helps. As children get older, they are reminded right from wrong by society. They start showing compassion rather than selfishness. With that in mind, as I’ve said before, we need to enforce NC Law 753. This law requires that disability history and awareness is to be taught in all public schools in North Carolina during the month of October. If all NC students learn to accept disability over time, we would see a massive change in perception. We would see a raise in expectation towards people with disabilities. I have worked hard behind the scenes over the past year to make this happen. If it does come to fruition, that would make my therapist prophecy worth it.
- Posted by Bryan Dooley
- On August 26, 2016
- 0 Comments