Disabiity Bias

What can one say about a category of people labled disabled. This category includes everyone from an elderly man experiencing chronic depression since the death of his wife, to a young blind woman, to a severely mentally retarded child, to a teenager with a mild learning disability, to a mother in a wheelchair, to a businessman with a disease that is progressively decreasing the physical functioning of his body? How can those of us who are currently able-bodied know how to treat people with disabilities?

How can those of us who are currently able-bodied know how to treat people with disabilities?

We must start by being flexible and open to learning. When appropriate, we can respectfully ask people what their needs are. We can treat each person with a disability as a unique individual, and as a whole person. We can also teach each other.

The biggest challenege for those who are disabled are not the disablity but attitudinal barriers imposed by others. Attitudinal Barriers are ways of thinking or feeling resulting in behavior that limit the potential of disabled people to be independent individuals. They include:


● Seeing the person only in terms of her disability.

● Not recognizing the whole person; assuming everything in his/her life-emotions, relationships, work, choices-revolves aroundthe disability.

● Acting as if people with disabilities have no emotions, no sexuality, impaired intelligence, and/or an ability to make decisions for themselves.

● Not talking directly to the person. Talking about her/him presence.

● Not establishing eye contact.


● Denying disabled people’s uniqueness as individuals.

● Assuming that one person represents all people with disabilities.

● Assuming that someone with one disability necessarily has others, too (for instance, believing that someone with a speech impediment must also be mentally retarded.)

● Not recognizing the diversity of disabilities, and the diversity of people who share any particular disability.

● Searching for the single right answer about how to act with people with disabilities; not recognizing that every individual is in a different place with his own process and self identity.


● Assuming that people with disabilities cannot know what is best for themselves.

● Not listening to people with disabilities.

● Imposing “help” rather than offering it, and thereby taking control away from the person.

● Withholding the authority and/or information that would enable a person with a disability to make her own decisions.

● Always hiring able-bodied people to design and administer social services for people with disabilities.

Using Oppressive Language

● Equating sick with bad, as in “ill-will,” “ill-fated,” “sickening,” “spastic” deaf and dumb”


● Hiring people with disabilities only to work in handicapped services.

● Believing people with disabilities will all want work related to their disability.

● Assuming people with disabilities should work or learn only with other people with disabilities.

● Scheduling only special activities for accessibility, rather than making all activities accessible.


● Holding lower expectations of people with disabilities, or giving work that’s too easy.

● Soft-pedaling negative feedback for fear of disabled peoples’ reaction.

● Making decisions for people with disabilities to shelter them from failing or getting hurt

● Tracking people with disabilities into only certain job fields.


● Not shaking hands.

● Not including a disabled person in social or work-related activities.

● Choosing activities or meeting places which are inaccessible (no elevators or wide bathrooms for people with wheelchairs, no sign language translators, etc.).

● Seeking a disabled person’s opinion or perspective only on issues related to disability; imagining that he does not have valuable opinions and experience on the same breadth of issues you do.

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