What makes disabled people ‘Special’ ?

Jessica Joseph

For me, as a disabled person,  one of the biggest problem I face on a daily basis is the way in which others treat me differently.

These are my thoughts as a 17 year old.

Jessica Joseph

Jessica Joseph

Through the prejudices of society and the perceived view of what is ‘normal’, of which many disabled people do not fit into, abled bodied people seem to have prejudgements on disabled people and it is almost as if they see us as lesser human begins.

Equality is an idea very much in the distance for those who live with a disability. There has been many a time in my life, where I have felt invisible as people have looked at my disability and not thought about getting to know me personally. The term ‘special’ is used a lot when referring to disabled people. Why is this? What makes disabled people ‘Special’ when they really are the same as everyone else? While not all people do so, some nondisabled people do not empathize with disabled people and the challenges they face. Some feel uncomfortable being a friend to someone who is perceived differently. People who are not exposed to individuals with disabilities often do not realize that a disabled person, despite his or her disability, is just like a nondisabled person. People with disabilities can do some things that nondisabled people cannot do. Because they tend to be able to view life from a different perspective and are able to tackle many challenges with a positive outlook.

For some people, having a disability helps them learn to advocate for themselves. Some might say that being nice to people with disabilities is not necessarily treating them the same as the general population. People with a disability should be able to make their dreams come true like everyone else does in our society, be that having a job, living in a house of their own choice, and choosing how they spend their free time. I think that more awareness should be in place to show abled bodied people how normal disabled people are, people sometimes seem to forget that disabled people are humans too and look down on them with a sympathetic eye, but in reality disabled people are the same, we all have emotions, aspirations and dreams.

No person with a disability is stupid, dumb, incompetent, pathetic, or a loser. In many ways we have the same hopes and dreams that we all share. How people continue to use hurtful words without realising they are offensive to people with a disability is typical of the everyday inequality that people with a disability have to face. Terms like ‘retard’ along with others are unacceptable and should never ever be used. They are hurtful and a form of bullying and discrimination. Yet for some reason these awful words keep popping up in people’s daily conversation. I wish the world could just understand people with a disability, it’s not rocket science, It hurts me deeply that people think and say these words without thinking twice about how offensive they are! People need to think before they speak and actually treat people like human beings, whether you have a disability or not at the end of the day we are all human and everyone deserves to be treated with respect.

I remember so clearly being referred to at school as ‘Jemma’s disabled sister, as if I had no identity other than that. I was categorised before I was even spoken to and because I was presumed ‘different’ I was also presumed mentally disabled as well as physically. I really don’t understand why this term ‘special’ that I have talked about before has to be used. Can we stop putting labels on people, if we were all the same life would certainly be boring.

What do I think needs to be done?

I think the youth of today need to be informed about the treatment disabled people receive and the preconceptions as part of the school curriculum.

If when we were all young, mothers allowed their young children to interact with children with disabilities in a completely natural way, would things be different for the disabled teenager or adult. So many times I saw mothers of children at play centres or other social events physically pull their child away from my direction and it was heart breaking. I was so desperate to ‘play’ with others, to be accepted, but I could literally feel the worry oozing from the parent when their child chose me to play with. It is something that still brings a tear and such sadness to me, as I still see the same behaviour being repeated in the playgrounds.

Very recently, I watched a very thought provoking program called The Unbreakables, which is part of BBC Three’s Defying the Label season.. This program was particularly emotional and thought provoking for me as many of the people featured in the program expressed the same thoughts and feelings that I have on nondisabled people’s attitudes towards disabled people. This program also showed how the people featuring are resilient, matter-of-fact, mostly cheerful, sometimes sad, often funny people, who fall in love and wonder about the future and hope to get a job after college. Their goal, like that of most young people, is independence, and many of them will go on to achieve it.

They are, however, also living with a disability that makes their lives harder in all sorts of ways, and the programme doesn’t ignore this. Xenon appears in the first episode, and is upfront about the fact that he’d rather not have to use a wheelchair; in his dreams, he can walk and as a disabled person, who has felt like this in the past, I can strongly relate to this. But in Xenon’s case any anger or frustration he shows is accompanied by humour, which is amazing to see that someone can be that strong. The brilliance of National Star, the college featured in the program is not just in the support and care its staff provides; it’s in the way the students feel at home, and totally unselfconscious. Once they leave college, they don’t want to be considered special – they want to be considered equal. What is amazing about The Unbreakables is that it isn’t trying to do anything except give National Star’s students the chance to speak for themselves and express their feelings on being disabled in today’s society.

Watching this program got me thinking about other programs on television about disability and the way the program creators have chosen to portray people with disabilities, for example, The undateables, personally, I feel that the way the program is marketed almost portrays disabled people as a source of a joke. The tagline for the program on the channel 4 website is ‘: ‘People living with challenging conditions are often considered ‘undateable’, but my question is, by who? The answer is always society. Looking at both these programs in comparison to each other, there are many notable differences on the way both of the channels have chosen to present the programs, for example, the titles show two different perspectives, ‘The Undateables’ implies that no-one would want to date a disabled person. The name is disgusting. It’s like ‘you’re disabled so you must be undateable’. What we need are more programmes that focus on people’s personalities first and show disability in a positive way to show that disabled people are exactly the same as nondisabled people.

If you have any thoughts on the above I would love to hear from you in the comments below…