When people, even when meaning well, project their ideas of disability on to a disabled person, they reduce them to a selection of stereotypes based on the things presumed about the disabled person. Disability is not binary. Most of us fall somewhere into the area of gray. Speaking personally, I am more disabled by the society I live in; then I am my disabilities, which brings us to the following topic.
Put People First
Put people first is not something I created. There are several put people first movements. Regardless of the campaign, the name is attached to; there is a common thread. Everyone is to remember always to put people first. You may be wondering how this is related to those with disabilities. First, let’s get a good understanding of what put people first means.
Never identify a disabled person based on that one characteristic. For example, wrong– that autistic man.Right - that man that has autism. Or, wrong - my Downs syndrome friend. Right – my friend that has Downs syndrome. This change in word arrangement might be challenging to put into practice in the beginning but will become second nature after you do it enough. Just bear in mind that when you are speaking of a disabled person, they always come before their disability. I can see where this might appear as a behavior modification that can go on the back burner for another day. However, to those of us living with disabilities, especially if chronic pain is involved, this is no trivial pursuit. By identifying our disability first, you marginalize us, and it can be quite offensive. In the beginning, it can be embarrassing. Still, after living with it day after day and year after year, it becomes ugly because we exist as individuals not exist as disabled.
By putting people first, you are saying that we exist as a person, but also have this characteristic. Speaking personally, most of the time, my disabilities make me quite angry and make me want to stay inside and not deal with people. I have challenging days physically and psychologically; however, God, the Author of all Life, gave me a calling that provides me with the physical and mental strength to carry on. Never identify a disabled person based on their disability. Remember always to Put People First.
Types of Disabilities
· Invisible Disability – A hidden or invisible disability is one that is not immediately viewable to an onlooker (Source: lawkm.com). These disabilities are usually physical, mental, or neurological and limit the individual’s activities due to an impairment of senses or movements. This type of disability requires adjustments. Unfortunately, people aren’t necessarily aware of that sometimes.
· Mental Health – A mental health disability is any mental or psychological disorder, such as intellectual disability, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities, that substantially limits one or more major life activities (Source:supportservices.jobcorps.gov). With this disability, interpretation of situations may not always be accurate.
· Sensory Disability – “Sensorydisabilities” can involve any of the five senses. Still, for educational purposes, it generally refers to a disability-related to hearing, vision, or both hearing and vision (Source: doe.virginia.gov). This disability affects communication and understanding.
· Visible Disability – A visible disability is one that another can see based on the disabled person's appearance and or behavior (Source: experts 123.com). This disability highlights presumed assumptions, thus spotlighting the attitudes of others.
Faith Through Weakness
I celebrate with author Bonnie Baker Armistead when she says in her article Kingdom Impact Through Weakness And Disability, What a life! What an adventure! What a gracious God we serve! For many of us, we found out understanding to the point of accepting our blessing of disability takes some time. We will discuss in greater detail what that means in another section. Still, the reason it is brought to attention here is to reinforce how being uneducated about people with disabilities can and does severely impact us.
Just as we all must work on our faith with God continually, so it is with the disabled. Only the disabled have the advantage of experiencing blessings that are not available to abled people. We gain a strengthening of our faith through our weakness. Imagine the power of being able to gain strength through weakness. What a life! What an adventure! What a gracious God we serve!
More Than our Body and Disability
Disabilities affect individuals differently. Never make assumptions. Don’t ignore the difference to appear fair-minded or unbiased. If you are not sure of boundaries when interacting with a disabled person – just ask politely. It is just that easy. Regardless of the disability, we exist, we are more than our body and disability, and we have a special blessing and calling from God.
Discussion and Reflection
1. Define Put People First
2. Why is it important to put people first?
3. From memory, what are the types of disabilities? Briefly explain each one.
4. If you are not sure how to interact with a disabled person, what is the best way to begin?
5. Should you project your ideas of disability on to a disabled person? Why or why not?