In cultureShock, Entertainment by Jeff McAllister

I have come to realize that even people with disabilities can make assumptions about others with disabilities that are not true. Last month I mentioned about seven actors on primetime television who (at least I thought) were not disabled, but were portraying people with disabilities. I subsequently found out that one of those actors listed is in fact disabled. I want to take this opportunity to apologize for giving you bad information and to try and set the record straight.

Robert David Hall, who plays Dr. Al Robbins on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CBS, Thursdays, 9 PM Eastern), does in fact have a disability. He has been a double amputee for the past 25 years after having his car crushed by an eighteen-wheeler on the San Diego Freeway in 1978. The Associated Press did a story on Hall last month that indicated that he wished for more, realistic disabled characters on television and in movies.

This brings me to my subject today: misconceptions.

Often, disabled people complain that “able-bodied” people have misconceptions about people with disabilities. There are even organizations which exist to promote acceptance and understanding of people with disabilities. The same people can be guilty of having misconceptions of not only able-bodied people, but also others with disabilities as well.

There are many views about what constitutes a disability. Different people believe different things are what makes someone disabled or not disabled. Some think that only those who use wheelchairs are disabled and that people with heart conditions are not disabled, while others believe that because they cannot see a disability, one must not exist. Every person with a disability has questioned another person’s disability. Does this mean they are being unreasonable? Of course, it does not. This news especially true when some people abuse disability laws for personal gain rather than for the benefit of everyone. We all have a right to question these things.

However, we must always understand the needs of other people. It is very hard to know whether someone is or is not disabled, so questioning someone’s disability is pointless.

If someone is seen getting into a car that is legally parked in a handicapped parking spot (with a disabled parking placard or license plate) it may be easy for us to assume that the person is not really disabled and is simply abusing somebody else’s privilege. There is no way to know for sure whether or not that person is disabled, so we should just assume that they are. Much easier said than done.

So, what to do?

The answer lies within the media and Robert David Hall appears to be helping lead the way. He is a mainstream actor who has a disability, not a disabled actor. Hopefully, more media executives will see his character and other characters I mentioned in my past column as a new way of portraying disabilities. The only way to get these executives to understand is to let them know that people with disabilities deserve to be treated as people and the best way to do that is contacting them correctly. If enough people write to them they will have to pay attention.
If you have any questions or comments please send me an email to nathasha@audacitymagazine.com and on the subject heading write CULTURESHOCK.

Look forward to hearing from you.