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Disability Stereotypes: Clichés, Myths and Facts

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Alokita | May 12, 2017 (Last update: July 3, 2022)

Alokita is a Polio Survivor. She overcame her disability and went on to become a commerce graduate. Alokita writes about disability issues and her appetite for learning new things is far from satiated.

Persons with disabilities have to face a number of clichés, stereotypes and myths associated with disability. These are the misconceptions that are deeply rooted in the mental framework of the society. Thus, instead of pondering over the reality, people unknowingly keep living in the realm of stereotypes. Today, we are writing about a few such disability related myths that very commonly occur in our society.

If you find that you’ve also been believing in any of these clichés, we would request you to make amends and see the realities of the life of a person with disability.

1. Disability is a consequence of deeds of previous lives (karmas)

This is probably the most wide-spread and most often used cliché about disability. People, especially in Asian countries like India, believe in rebirth. According to them, every person on the earth has a previous life. The way a person is living in this life is highly influenced by what she did in her previous life. One has to pay back for all the bad karmas of past lives.

You can easily find people telling a disabled person that “it’s all because of karmas“. But any modern and forward thinking society would know better.

2. God or nature compensates a person with disability by giving some other super-ability

If a person with disability is successful in her life, many people in society tend to attribute this success to some mysterious divine ability given to that person by God or nature. These people will not appreciate the hardwork invested in acquiring and honing a talent. They will also not appreciate the sacrifices made while making use of these talents to achieve success. They will simply put it all down to the blessings of the Lord. Such people think that if God takes one thing away, then he compensates it with something else.

In case of person with disability, isn’t it contradictory to the above mentioned myth? Because if a person is disabled because of her sins — then why to compensate her?

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3. Visually impaired person can’t hear either!

More often than not people tend to behave as if a visually impaired person can not even hear. While speaking with a visually impaired person, people tend to say things loudly. They feel that if someone can’t see you very well then they probably can’t hear you either.

The truth is that lack of vision does not hamper hearing ability of a person.

4. Hearing impaired people can not speak

Hearing impaired people of course can speak. Their disability does not affect vocal chords. However, some of these people can not hear their own voice when they speak. You can imagine that it would be hard to speak without noticing that one is speaking. As the person cannot hear; she may not have a perfect control on her pitch so she may consciously decide not to use her voice. It is also possible that a person lost her hearing ability before learning a language to speak.

As a result, some hearing impaired people choose not to speak. But that does not mean that they can not speak. One should not automatically assume that a hearing impaired person would also be mute.

5. God will help us if we will help a disabled person

Now what to say about it?! Everyone in the society should help each other without thinking of give-and-take. Those who help others only as a way to seek rewards from a supreme power, their idea of help is certainly misplaced. If a disabled person asks for some help to overcome a disability-related hurdle in her way — you should help her simply because it is your social responsibility. Every member of a civil society are expected to extend a helping hand to those in need.

6. Blind people have heightened sense of hearing

This is totally wrong. Ability of hear has no connection with someone’s ability to see. Therefore, people with visual impairment have the same level of hearing ability like anyone else. However, because visually impaired people rely more on sounds to know about their environment, they may become more attuned to noticing sound.

7. Hearing aids can always correct hearing impairment

Hearing aids can effectively correct impairment only in some cases. If the disability is arising because of auditory nerve damage, then hearing aids are not of much use as they will be able to amplify only high decibel noise like sirens.

8. Blind people have no vision at all

Visual impairment can be of varying degrees. Some people lose 100% sight whereas others lose sight to a lesser extent. People with low vision may be able to detect light and dark and may also have some degree of vision.

9. Accessibility is a concern only because of disabled people

Recently we published an article about Universal Design for accessible houses. In that article we discussed how certain changes in house can make it more accessible not only for persons with disabilities but also for others. If something is accessible for disabled people, it will most likely be accessible for kids, elderly and pregnant women as well. Accessibility is essentially a design issue. Everything should be built in a way so as to ensure that everyone is the society can use it with ease.

10. Disabled people can not be abled!

Well, a particular disability (complete or partially) takes away only a certain functionality of body. Rest of the abilities still remain with the person. So, every disabled person is abled too.

11. When a person with disability laughs or smiles she does so to hide her pains.

Although disability makes a life tougher but it is only a part of life not the whole life. Like everybody else, people with disability have their shares of happiness, sadness, joys and sorrows. They do not continually dwell on the pains of disability. They have all sorts of emotions in their life like any other individual. They laugh because they feel like laughing.

12. Persons with disability cannot have their biological child. If they do, the child would also be a disabled child

Most of the disabilities do not have any effect on a person’s reproductive health. If both the partners have healthy reproductive system — then the presence or absence of a disability does not affect a child’s birth. Most of the persons with disability have a set of healthy and able-bodied parents. Mostly disabilities are non-genetic in nature.

13. Persons with disability do not have a sex life

Everybody can have sex in their own style and adaptation. A person with disability may have a very active sex life. They may also belong to LGBT group. It depends completely on a person’s choice. Disability does not make a human ‘asexual’.

14. Visually impaired person acquire sixth sense

A person with visual impairment may become more skilled in using their other sense organs in comparison with individuals without visual impairment. But it does not mean they have any supernatural sixth sense.

15. Persons with hearing disability can read lips

Though there are individuals who practice and gain some proficiency in lip reading but it is nothing some sort of a god-gifted talent. There are many who cannot read lips. Individuals who practice lip reading can also not understand 100% of what is said by reading lips. Only 20-25% of talk can be guessed accurately by lip reading as all individuals have different pace and style of speaking.

16. Individuals with Cerebral Palsy are mentally retarded or less intelligent than the average population

A person with Cerebral Palsy may stammer or her speech may be not clear; but it does not affect their intelligence level. IQ of a person with Cerebral Palsy is just like any other individual. There are many persons with Cerebral Palsy who have higher than average intelligence level too.

17. Permanent wheelchair users are chronically ill

There are different reasons for a person to be in wheelchair. In most of the cases when a person is a permanent wheelchair user it’s because she is unable to walk or walking is too difficult for her. Inability to walk is a condition and not a sickness. The person may be in a perfectly healthy state of body despite her inability to walk.

18. People with mental illness are always violent and unpredictable

In majority of the cases, a person with mental illness would be so calm and harmless that you won’t even know that the person has any kind of mental illness. In fact we have many more persons with mental illness around us than we can imagine. Due to lack of awareness, the person herself doesn’t know that she may have mental illness.

READ ALSO: Common myths about Autism

19. Persons with disabilities always need assistance and normal-bodied person are obliged to help them

It’s good if you want to help but most of the persons with disability like to do things independently and they have their own way to do it. If you want to help you may politely ask the person and if she says no then it certainly means no. Don’t be over-enthusiastic to hold a person climbing stairs with crutches; you may disturb their balance and hurt them.

20. Accommodating workplace for workers with disability is too costly

Making an accessible office is not a costly project. And most of the accommodations make things easier for non-disabled employees too.

21. People with disabilities keep falling sick so they have less attendance at work

People with disabilities do not have lesser attendance as compared to their able-bodied counterparts. Mostly, disability has nothing to do with immune system or the frequency of falling sick.

22. Certain jobs are well-suited for persons with disabilities which are specially designed for them

Persons with disabilities have different sets of skills and interest as any non-disabled individual. The spectrum of disability is also very wide. A job perfectly suitable for one person with disability may be an impossible task for a person with some other kind of disability.

23. People with disabilities are inspirational and courageous therefore should be praised for whatever they do

When people with disability manage their day-to-day task they are simply adapting to their life and it does not require courage. Praising a person with disability for doing any ordinary job actually irritates the person as they know there is nothing inspirational in earning bread for yourself or managing your household.

24. People with disability have a very different lifestyle and they cannot adjust anywhere apart from their own home

People with disabilities have a very normal lifestyle like anyone else. Their way of doing a task may differ based on their limitation. An accessible home gives a person with disability the comfort they require but it doesn’t mean they cannot live elsewhere. People with disabilities are actually more adaptive and adjusting than persons without disability.

25. Curious children should be kept away from persons with disability as they may hurt the person by asking questions about their disability

Mostly disabled people love children like anyone else and so they reply lovingly to the innocent questions of curious children. Keeping away or telling a child to shut their mouth when they show curiosity for a person with disability gives them impression that disability is something so bad that it shouldn’t be discussed. It restricts the child from understanding the diversity in nature.

26. People with disability do not like interacting with anyone other than their family so an accompanying person should be approached

It is actually rude to ask someone else to answer on behalf of the person with disability. A person with disability may be introvert or extrovert like any other person. In any case you should ask the person directly whatever you want to ask or talk about. They are able to take their decision and express views of their own.

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