Why Do We Assume People With Disabilities Are Victims?

wheelchair racer
wheelchair racer

There was a person speaking at a funeral which I was attending. The person who passed was a dear friend. He died at the age of 33. The person who came up to do a speech and who I will be referencing through this post had an accent and a missing arm.

The speaker came from Africa, and he is a barber. He was my dear friend's barber who has passed away.

Why am I writing this post? To understand why we judge people based on who they are and what they can and cannot do -- disabilities.

People who do not look like us, talk like us, or have the same abilities as we do... we tend to stereotype and put them in a different category. We treat them differently even though they deserve to be treated just like everyone else with respect.

I noticed at the funeral, out of all the speeches, that his got the loudest applause. Was it what he said that made everyone applaud louder and longer or was it because people felt that he had a disadvantage and that he deserved the applause that he received?

What may appear as a disadvantage can actually prove to be an advantage. How you may wonder? People who lose a limb or part of the body that makes them unable to do things that an able person can seem to be more resilient.

They fight/work harder because they have to. They see the world for what it is, they are blessed for what they do have and they realize this blessing and do what most able bodied people won't do. That is take a risk by applying their efforts into something that is rewarding.

I am not speaking for every person who is disabled. I am speaking particularly about the people I know in my life that are born or had a tragic accident in their life who don't have the same abilities and who are now fighters. People who use their disability, don't complain, and who capitalize on the opportunities they are given.

I do not have a disability, Does this give me the right to talk about people with disabilities? Absolutely. I believe everyone should have a voice. Everyone has opportunities. They may not be the same opportunities, but the execution of those opportunities matters more.

Everyone wants to be treated equally. So why do we not treat people equally, especially those who are at a disadvantage? I recently read a great article about how people with disabilities are shifting from victim to advocate on the Huffington Post by a journalism student from the university of Maryland.

The student tells us about his disability and how he is proud of it and would not change what society deems as comfortable. This article is a great lesson to perceive people for who they are not the ability or non abilities they may have.

Empathizing but not actually understanding the symptoms since you cannot experience it makes your assumptions misleading. Sure, you can think about how it may be to step into their shoes and thus it would make you feel bad for that individual for having to go through the everyday struggles.

They don't see it that way. People who do not have those abilities do not see the struggles. They see the opportunities that they are given. Their circumstances may not be what you desired, but they wouldn't change it because they learn and adapt to live with their abilities they do have.

Stop seeing people for the abilities they have, instead look at the contribution they bring to society. Look at what they can do, instead of what they may not be able to do.

They want to be treated equally as hard as it may be initially for you to do so. Once you get to know these people you will feel more inadequate about yourself as you may perceive them out to be.

The barber is an established member of society who owns the studio and who has a full time staff whom he manages. He owns a successful business. Much of what aspiring entrepreneurs would dream of.

I wrote an article a while back about my volunteer work with the Blind Beginnings organization. My initial reaction, and I am ashamed of it, was that these people needed my help. They don't need my help. In fact, I learned more from people who are visually impaired than I do from many of my friends who are able-bodied.

Don't take people for granted who at first sight appear at a mere disadvantage. You never know what they can teach you.

I am not sure how to take the Wiki How approach to speaking to someone with a disability. With complete disregard or curiosity? I understand some individuals don't understand how to deal with situations where they find themselves with someone who is in a wheelchair, who are socially awkward, but that's a whole other disability.

There are many challenges we face in life. Some people face more challenges than others. See those obstacles as opportunities. Change your mindset and your world will change.

Look at the Paralympics for example. Those Olympians are better at the sport they are competing at than many people who are able-bodied. They are better because of the amount of hard work, practice and the mindset they govern. They are people just like you and me. Treat them the same and they will treat you how you treat them.

I will sum this post up with a quote from Stephen Hawking's son, "One big contribution my father has made is to show that having a disability does not bar you from leading a full and eventful life."

Thank you for reading this post. I am grateful to have friends from all different walks of life because they teach me how to be diverse, how to give, how to work hard, how to take on obstacles and challenges and how to be grateful for what I do have. To be continued....

A version of this post originally appeared on To be continued...