Longing to Belong
Addressing the lack of acceptance towards the disabled community
By Talia Kliot
Today’s society is continually boasting about inclusion and tolerance for people of all shapes, sizes, sexual orientations, and abilities. While we are definitely making headway, the special needs population tends to be overlooked in this philosophy of “total acceptance”.
The special needs population encompasses those with behavioral, physical, emotional and developmental disabilities. It can vary from learning impairments such as dyslexia, to genetic disorders like Down Syndrome. No matter how mild or developed the disability, individuals who are affected by them are still met with preconceived notions that have no basis.
An individual who faces these stigmatizations on a daily basis is my uncle, who lives with Angelman’s Syndrome: a genetic disorder that primarily affects the nervous system. The happy disposition and jerky movements that are characteristic to people with this condition give it the alternative name of “Happy Puppet Syndrome”. In other words, this essentially means that his capacities match those of a two-year-old.
Whenever I mention him in casual conversation, I tend to get sympathetic responses. My uncle, however, lives a fantastic life in a loving group home. He doesn’t need anyone to feel sorry for him. The same can be said for the higher functioning residents of his home. They want to be treated with respect and dignity.
Though whole individuals, people with special needs are often seen as nothing more than their disability. This reality is problematic and is one that needs to change. They too have special abilities, mannerisms, quirks, and passions. This should be the first thing a person notices about them, rather than their special needs. Once we internalize this type of positive, supportive, and humanizing discourse, the prejudice and ignorance these individuals face will lessen.
I recently had the privilege of attending the play “Letter to my Disability”, which was performed by the students and teachers at Summit School. Summit is a school for individuals aged 4 to 21 with special needs. In this piece, the characters had to write a letter about what they would say to their disability if they were to meet them in person. In an uplifting, eye-opening, and truly well-done performance, we received a glimpse into their struggles of self acceptance and their fears and challenges of being accepted by others. While addressing themes of bullying, parental drama and school difficulties, this play is important on all levels. It shows that while people with special needs may have different obstacles, many of the hardships they face are ones that we all grapple with eventually.
Aidan Rubin, a Psychology student at Dawson, spent 6 weeks interning at Treiser Maison Shalom, which is the same group home my uncle resides at. During this time, he developed meaningful connections with these individuals; he continues to visit them every week to talk and play games.
Rubin points out that our views on this issue apply to students as well. “If you see someone being wheeled around Dawson, you’re more likely to react to it. You’re more likely to stare than if you saw someone with a weird haircut,” he explains.
We can eliminate this stigma, prejudice and profound sense of difference by replacing it with curiosity and a desire to understand. If we would start to consider disabilities as something as commonly understood and accepted as a physical illness, the gawking would stop. Through this, we would begin to realize that while those with mental disabilities may look or speak differently, we are still all fundamentally human and deserve the same level of compassion and empathy.
via:Josh Appel from Unsplash
[NOTE: To learn more about the Montreal special needs community, please visit http://www.montrealfamilies.ca/Montreal-Families/Directories/Special-Needs/.]