|Jennifer Addis, mobileWOMEN's new "Hey Jen!" columnist|
This week I'd like to introduce a topic that most people have had experience with at some point: truth versus stereotype. Whether it's regard to weight issues, age, race, sexuality differences or a disability, many of us face stereotypes and misperceptions on a daily basis.
My boyfriend, Paul, works for a seating and mobility company. Like other couples, at the end of each day he and I talk about what took place, good or bad. Paul often has an inspiring and interesting story to share. He never pries into his clients’ personal lives, but since his personality makes others extremely comfortable with him, they open up easily, which is where my idea for this week’s entry originated. On this particular day, Paul could not wait to share a story with me about his client, who we'll call “Bob.” As Paul was working on Bob's wheelchair that day, Bob decided to share a few words of his own personal wisdom.
"You know, Paul, people in wheelchairs are BETTER people than able-bodied individuals."
Paul then decided to share with Bob that he was dating me, a quadriplegic woman in a wheelchair, which impressed Bob enough to share some more words of wisdom. He complimented Paul and continued to share that this made him a good person as well, because he was dating me, a woman confined to a wheelchair. Bob thought that was very cool, because in his eyes, most able-bodied individuals wouldn't be able to see beyond the wheelchair. Paul's reaction to that comment was that he doesn't see the wheelchair when he looks at me. He sees my inner, as well as my outer, beauty and who I am as a person, which I believe is genuinely true, because he tells me this almost every day!
I think Bob's opinion about people in wheelchairs being generally BETTER people may be a valid point, due to the adversity and personal struggles involved, but it is still a stereotype. More often than not, he may be correct. Is it true across the board? No. Are these stereotypes and misperceptions of the physically and mentally challenged okay? Of course not!
There'll always be someone, someplace, somewhere that just doesn't get it! This is where we, not only the disabled population, but the able-bodied as well, need to work on educating and bringing awareness within our communities that people in wheelchairs or with any disability are their equals. We have the exact same needs and wants as any other individual in society. We may be a parent, someone’s significant other, your neighbor, leaders within our communities, Olympic medalists, advocates and role models. We may be intelligent, funny, inspiring, motivated, beautiful, career-oriented, confident and strong, just to name a few!
I am a motivational speaker for many reasons, one being to change society's misperceptions and stereotypes about others who may be living life with a physical or mental challenge. I do not want to be defined by my disability. I do not want to get up in front of an audience and give an intellectual, heartfelt and inspiring presentation, only to find my audience walking away thinking, "Wow! What a beautiful girl in a wheelchair!" It's great that my audience may think I am beautiful, but to only walk away with the concept that I am beautiful and in a wheelchair is a bit frustrating or, should I say, A LOT frustrating! There is much more to me than meets the eye, if you take the initiative to see beyond the wheelchair.
Can we, as a society, begin looking at the "truths" about an individual, basically everything that molds each of us together as unique individuals? Let’s focus on our individuality, not on stereotypes. Then we may begin to change those "stereotypes," such as the attitude of someone like Bob, who has experienced situations as a man with a disability that have caused him to stereotype all able-bodied individuals as being closed-minded and negative towards others, physically and mentally challenged. These negative experiences have caused Bob to stereotype able-bodied individuals, just as he believes the able-bodied are stereotyping him.
As we move into the year 2011...
Is it possible, as a society, to treat people living with a disability, not necessarily as being BETTER individuals in society, but as worthy individuals? In turn, is it then possible, to treat all able-bodied individuals, dealing with issues, such as weight, age, race and sexuality differences as worthy individuals as well?
Remember, nothing is too personal in my book, so send your questions to “Hey Jen!” at: mobileHeyJen@gmail.com! Learn more about me and my story at my website: www.InspirationSpeaks.Me.