Equality Matters

As we celebrate the annual International Day of Persons with Disabilities, I think back to 1981 and the International Year of Disabled Persons. The worthy aim by the UN was to equalise opportunities for all people experiencing a disability and allow them to fully participate in the life of their communities.

However, we seem to have fallen short of the UN goal of positive integration, mostly because the inherent mindset of the human condition is to be suspicious of anything that seems unfamiliar.

Clearly, discrimination of those we don’t understand weaves itself through every theme of social injustice today – consider racial prejudice and cultural bias – as the perception of differences between individuals (through our relative ignorance) can stir up fear. This is why someone who presents with a disability may be so easily misunderstood, and this is especially significant when their emotions are not recognised.

Since the early 1980s, successive governments have made great gains in the social welfare system by introducing new accommodation and support initiatives that focus on the needs of the individual with a disability. Yet while managing the complex range of practical changes, the emotional status of individuals has often been missed.

In my 30 plus years of working in the disability field, I found that it’s crucial to recognise the emotional wellbeing of all individuals if we are to generate true equality for everyone. Ignoring this deeply personal element remains a disabling barrier among us, and the impact of misunderstanding is tenfold for someone who is unable to verbally express how they feel or what they may be thinking.

In my book I share how I spent many years working in the disability sector. I relate many stories of people living with a disability, with the intention of providing each individual with a voice so they can tell us who they really are – someone just like us. Probably my biggest insight into my clients’ emotional status was being able to consider standing in their position, even just for a moment. Similarly, I found that it only takes a little kindness to understand each person better, and I know how this perspective can often lead to surprising outcomes.

Perhaps at this time it’s even more poignant for us to consider that we all want to feel accepted as a valued member of society.

Rainbow People is available here and profits go to charity.