Lord knows that I’ve beaten the topic of attitudinal barriers to the ground since I started my writing career. I have written about how people stared at me while eating in restaurants, how parents used to pull their kids away as if I had the plague, and how some folks used to talk loudly and slowly “at” me. In short, I used to feel like an alien until recently.
But a gradual change is occurring within society. I really didn’t notice it until my best friend apprised me to the fact while touring Greater Cleveland during our vacation.
People were actually nice and friendly towards me. When we went to K Mart and Giant Eagle, customers and employees passed us by in the aisles and said, “Hi, how are you?”
One gentleman even offered to help us as my best friend was transferring me into the car. The same thing happened when we went to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and the art museum. We received smiles and greetings from complete strangers. Even the security guard at the Hall of Fame waited with me while my friend pulled up with the car.
Besides being nice and courteous, I’ve also noted now that most people who I encounter don’t treat me as if I am an ignorant child. They actually talk to me in a normal tone and at a regular pace. No longer do they talk “at” me.
Moreover, unlike ten or fifteen years ago, most folks don’t seem to mind that I do things differently. For example, when I attended a New Year’s Eve celebration, there were no gawking eyes while my mom fed me. In fact, two women held a conversation with me during the meal.
To you, that probably doesn’t seem like a big deal. But, to me, if someone can freely converse with me during my meals, it means that he or she accepts me as an ordinary individual.
So, why is there a fantastic change? One possible reason is the September 11 tragedy. Since that awful day, people have re-discovered the value of another human being regardless of race, creed, religion, or disability. We have witnessed how human life can be destroyed in an instant, and how complete strangers have risked their lives to save others.
People are nicer to one another, especially in New York where its residents are known to have cold hearts. Times have changed. Now, they are more willing to help those in need, more compassionate towards those who have greater challenges than themselves.
Another theory explaining the reason strangers treat me as a “normal” person could be that I keep very attractive company. For example, a tall, charming handsome Italian guy pushed my wheelchair, which made the women especially kind towards me.
What would have happened if I were with someone who was plain looking? People probably would trip over my wheelchair without even saying, “Excuse me.” In fact, a study conducted at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience in London concluded, “liaisons with someone deemed attractive could have advantages.”
But even without my attractive friends, strangers still treated me more cordially than before 1995. Could it be that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has finally started to change society’s attitudes towards persons with disabilities?
It’s possible. The ADA has obviously caused us to be more visible on the streets, in the workplace, in the shopping malls.
Since others notice us more as a part of society, they accept and treat us more as active members of the social realm. In fact, a 1998 survey conducted by the National Council of Disability and Harris Poll indicates that 63% of those questioned feel that attitudes towards people with disabilities have improved.
Indeed, my best friend was right. For some or all of the above reasons, people’s attitudes have become more positive, not just towards me, but towards all persons with disabilities. But even though society has become more comprehensive towards us, the social acceptance must grow into more education, employment, and housing opportunities.
Greetings, smiles, and offers for assistance are all gratifying; however, a degree, a job, and a home are imperative for us to remain productive members of society.
Is Rosemary right? What is your view on this topic? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or join the Online Forum to discuss it with other Audacity readers.