People with disabilities make up the nation’s largest minority with nearly 20% of the US population living with some type of disability. Unlike racial or ethnic groups, anyone can become part of the disability community at any time. Unfortunately, people with disabilities experience discrimination on a daily basis.
The concept of diversity inclusion encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that everyone is unique and recognizing individual differences such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical ability, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies. Diversity inclusion is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating one another for who we are as human beings.
If you do not currently have a disability, your chances of becoming disabled at some point during your working life are around 20%. People with disabilities cross all racial, gender, educational, socio-economic, and organizational lines.
Discussion regarding diversity is often focused on gender and race. Although the disability community is the world’s largest minority, attention is rarely given to us, and we are often the group discriminated against the most frequently.
Here are the top the 10 instances of discrimination people with disabilities face each day:
- Media: In film and television, when the character portrayed has a disability, casting directors rarely hire an actor who actually has the depicted disability. This is very frustrating to see knowing there are many talented actors with disabilities looking for work. Also in the entertainment industry, gifted singers with disabilities remain relatively unknown. Can you name any famous disabled singers other than Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles?
- Transportation: People with disabilities are often left stranded on the side of the road because the “bus was too full,” the trolley doors wouldn’t open, or the conductor wouldn’t wait. It’s also incredibly difficult for us to catch a cab or carshare service because the majority aren’t wheelchair accessible. On top of our struggles with public transportation, many of us cannot afford a wheelchair accessible van.
- Elevators: At large events, elevator lines are ridiculously long! I recently experienced this at a concert, and a woman with a broken leg using a scooter yelled out to me, “I bet you’re as frustrated as I am that the elevators were meant for us, and all these able-bodied people are too lazy to walk!” We both opted to use the long, winding ramp that was meant for able-bodied access instead of waiting in the line to take the overly packed elevator.
- Stairs & Ramps: As wheelchair users, we always have to think ahead and ask, “Is it accessible?” before making plans to go anywhere. I have missed appointments and skipped out on restaurants and events all because of accessibility issues. Oftentimes, being able to access a venue means searching for a ramp that isn’t necessarily at the front entrance and takes forever to navigate because people choose to walk up or down the ramp instead of using the stairs.
- Sidewalks: Just the other day, I was on my way to a speaking engagement, and as I raced down an unpaved sidewalk full of dirt and pebbles, I felt my body bounce and my head bobble for a full block only to reach the end to find no curb cut out. Already running late, I had to turn around and race back through the same sidewalk and put my body and wheelchair through the bouncing and bobbling one more time. In order to get to my destination, I had to dangerously navigate through traffic as if I were a vehicle on the road.
- Employment: Like many of my friends, I have a very polished resume with great work experience and outstanding skills. It’s often solid enough to land me an interview. But what my friends’ and my resumes do not reveal are our disabilities. Unfortunately, having a disability is what, more often than not, disqualifies us time and time again for a job. I remember interviewing for a teacher’s assistant position and being told I might be a better candidate for a lunch and recess monitor position. Am I more qualified to chase down students who are running too fast in my wheelchair or to help a student learn to read?
- Medical Equipment: Simply adding the word “medical” to the word “equipment” raises the price of products enormously. This causes health insurance to deny our requests for many adaptive devices we need for daily living. Cutbacks have caused us to lose access to basic supplies like shower chairs, diapers, catheters, walkers, canes, wheelchairs, and more.
- Parking Spaces: It happens all the time: delivery trucks, lazy people, and even police cars parked in a handicapped parking spot for the convenience of it. Well, we don’t need the parking spot for convenience. We need it for access! The blue lines were designed so that we have extra space to load and unload, not for anyone to park and block our only entry in and out of our vehicle!
- Dating: We get asked questions that would never come up if we were able-bodied. The most common one is, “Can you still have sex?” Let me explain something. First of all, if you believe that the only way to have sex requires my legs to work, you must have a boring sex life. Secondly, are you admitting to me that you’re just on this date for sex? Or do you want to look past the disability and actually get to know me?
- Strangers: It’s funny how people react to disability. Sometimes, we’re completely ignored as if by talking to us you might catch our paralysis. Other times, people stare until finally, something comes out of their mouth, and it’s usually something like, “What happened?” or “Why are you in a wheelchair?” The one I struggle with the most is getting stopped by a complete stranger for, “I felt the need to pray over you.” Did I ask you for prayer? What about how I feel?
If we want to continue seeing the change the ADA initiated in terms of access and acceptance, we need to create more opportunities to promote diversity inclusion for all people regardless of background or ability. My nonprofit organization, Rolling With Me, does just that! Our mission is to engage, educate, and empower!
We focus on the importance of inclusion in our community and create recreational, leisure, and sports activities that are adaptive and inclusive of all abilities. Join us on November 17, 2018, for our next event, Each By Name, a women of all abilities empowerment conference sponsored by Comfort Medical.
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The Wheel:Life-Comfort Medical Relationship
Wheel:Life is now part of the Comfort Medical family! With more than 26,000 followers on social media, we served more than 100,000 website visitors with lifestyle resources in 2015. To help us expand our community impact, we have become part of the Comfort Medical organization.
Thanks to our relationship, we are able serve even more people who use wheelchairs with lifestyle resources, helpful products, and services.
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Note: The Comfort Conversations articles are for informational use only and are not intended to be construed as medical advice. Ask your doctor about issues related to your health and medical needs.
Comfort Medical Ambassador Margarita Elizondo is a motivational speaker, entrepreneur, producer/host of Wheel Talk Wheel Issues, model, author and an ambassador for the Los Angeles Abilities Expo. She was paralyzed in 2006 after an intruder broke into her home. Now, a single mother of three and grandmother, she pursues a degree in Communication at Grossmont Community College and works for Axia Management where she designed a wireless phone service for seniors and individuals with disabilities. As Ms. Wheelchair California 2013, she is a strong advocate in the disability community and volunteers for numerous nonprofits. You can reach her on Facebook or through www.margaritaelizondo.com.