Many of you will have, as part of your work experience done some work with the disabled. Questions such as ‘What did you learn while working with the disabled?’ are therefore common at medical school interviews. Once in a life time someone comes along who has the potential to change how we look at the world.
Simon Barnes wrote in the Times ‘.. Muhammed Ali changed the way white people think about people from races other than their own. Years later sport triggered a similar process with disability and Pistorius forced us to change the way we see the world.’
Pitfalls – mistakes often made by people with regard to the disabled;
- Labelling Being called ’disabled’ leads to labelling but no two disabled people are the same. What applies to one person may not apply to another. Behaviour has to be adjusted to the person and their capabilities.
- Some people feel fear and revulsion. Seeing disabled people and feeling empathy for them can be very disturbing. Putting your self in ‘their shoes’ can be difficult so withdrawing and standing back from doing so may be a natural protective mechanism. Oscar Pistorius was said to have ‘made being disabled sexy’ by one journalist – a comment that must have raised the self esteem of millions of others.
- ‘A drain on society’. From disabled parking spaces, special employment rights and disability benefits special provision is made for the disabled. This can be resented. No one who saw Oscar Pistorius run can generalise in this way any longer.
- ‘Brave’ ‘heroic’ ‘tragic victims’ – Not all disabled people are automatically [just because they are disabled] ‘brave’ not all are nice. Each person is different. Ironically Oscar may prove how true this is.
How to treat the disabled
Look at them and talk to them as normal. See past the disability to the person. A journalist who broke her leg recently wrote about her experience of using a wheel chair. In a restaurant she was completely ignored while a waitress talked to her 12 year old son. The Radio 4 programme on disability is called ’Does He Take Sugar?’ in reference to the fact that the disabled are frequently assumed to be incompetent at answering or talking and their companion is perceived as responsible for them.
Let me end with two statements derived from Oscar Pistorius quotes.
‘Concentrate on their abilities not the disability.’
‘Pity is one of the worst things, and it often comes with a lack of knowledge’