Impressions – Week 2

The material covered in the module for this week, really provided a lot of information regarding the sources of prejudice and discrimination and opened my eyes to all of the different aspects of social justice. Through the combination of reading in the textbook, the Charlton reading, as well as the PowerPoint slideshows and watching the video, I have learned that for all people to have access to equal opportunities and equal treatment, requires society to change in many different areas. In order to help ensure that all people are treated equally, regardless of whether it is a PWDs or a PWOD, and to provide means for all people to have a voice.  Having a voice means learning to stand up for oneself or to advocate for others. Looking back over the history of the disability movement, and the progress that has been made, there are many key actions that occurred along the way, however the span of time for these changes has been rather great.

All members of society should have independence, be equal and have access to all the benefits that exist in life. However, that has not always been the case, in particular when it comes to PWDs, or persons who are considered different in society due to gender, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual preference, level of income, or other classification.  Through the readings and other materials, I learned about the different reactions to disabilities, and how people have perceived those with disabilities, at times very inaccurately and harshly, and also how over time people with disabilities have basically been forced into living in isolation and alienated from society or outright neglected. The PWDs were treated almost like criminals by being placed in poor houses or in separate living arrangements, or even institutionalized in asylums. Over time, you can see how people have struggled to gain full citizenship and demand equality and autonomy, but because of prejudice and the negative attitudes or opinions that developed, progress in gaining these things was stagnated. Discrimination resulted it because of people behaving based upon prejudice and treating others differently and poorly because of their membership into a certain group or based on disabilities and differences. I found very interesting reading the information in the power points and in the text, because it really led me to think about the meaning of these words in society but also in terms of institutional discrimination, and how I have seen it or heard of it occurring in a work or educational setting. I have been in experiences where institutional discrimination occurred and while sometimes I know that it has been conscious effort to discriminate, there are times when it does happen unintentionally, as stated in the Smart text.

The text book reading in chapters 3 and 4, informed me of the different responses to disabilities and the different groups of disabilities and the hierarchy of stigma that each group faces. I was quite surprised by some of the information and terminology that is used, and also because of all the different types of prejudice, such as those in the list of 10 sources, some of which I had not considered, but now have a much greater understanding.
I also found it interesting that in this list of 10, that mental illness is the target of greater prejudice. Reading through the different reasons for the prejudice, has made me over the past few days really look at my classroom setting, the school I work in and the world around me. Every day as a teacher I interact with many students, many of which have disabilities and I am in a position to support those with disabilities but also provide resources and support for those without disabilities, in order to help and enhance understanding and acceptance between all students. I have been stereotyped in the workplace and society as well, and it is not a good feeling and definitely not something that I myself do, I want to know people first and not make any judgments based on appearances.

An additional area that I found to be very interesting and informative at least for myself was in chapter 4 the discussion which focused on the emotional responses and feelings regarding disabilities by both PWDs and PWODs. Some of the examples given in the book which talk about how people respond emotionally to having a disability or in reaction to a person with a disability. For example how there were unwritten rules that a person with disabilities should initiate the discussion and disclose information about their disability and communicate with others, basically in an effort to make others comfortable with a disability by being a “cheerful handicapped person”. This section really made me think why does anyone have to justify to another person any reason for how they are.

I was quite surprised by having read this and also about the “Share a smile Becky” barbie doll. It seems like these are ways to almost increase the stereotypes and prejudice toward disabled persons, and also to raise the likelihood that PWODs will pity the PWDs.  The discussion about the “existential angst of disability”, and how PWODs upon seeing PWDs remind them that it could be them in a situation, and that every moment without a disability might be their last. That is a very negative attitude and can lead to a “collective neurosis” which itself is a disabling condition.
I was very interested and moved by the story of a stranger and the information presented by Norman. Watching him and listening to him had a great impact on me and reminded me of a man I know from the gym which I had mentioned in a prior writing, and also of the young woman who spoke to our staff at the beginning of the school year who was unable to walk and unable to speak without the use of a Dynaxox and her the use of her chair.  What the 3 people I mention have in common is that none of them want to be considered disabled, they do not want to be helped or looked at differently, and all 3 want others to look at them as they would anybody else in society. They do not want PWODs to feel pity for them or feel the need to instantly do things for them or hold back opportunities from them, based on the disabilities.  You don’t always know everything about a person, simply by looking at them. You can look at a person using crutches and know that for some reason they can’t walk freely you can see a person with a guide dog, and know that they have a visual impairment, and there are many other examples I could give. But like Norman said, you don’t really know a person until you learn about them and talk to them. And the message in Story of a stranger I think I conveys this perfectly. We found out what his disability was and we could see and hear him, but had no idea about any of his life experiences or what great humor he had for the outlook on life until having listened to him talk. I have the same experience with the young woman that spoke at school as well as the man from the gym.

There is so much information this week and even though I had a Special education class before, I learned more about the disabilities themselves and the history, but I have not learned anything about the prejudice and discrimination involved nor the types of disabilities that carry higher stigma with them. It is important to stay informed, to listen to others speak and to learn to form relationships with people and be an advocate for oneself and for others.

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