Prejudice and the Disabled Person

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By Alberto E. Castillo Moreno, OP

In our society, many types of prejudice exist. The Larousse Dictionary includes various definitions: "To judge things before knowing them or without having all the necessary facts; opinion or judgment on something before having a true knowledge of it; prejudice that manifests itself in the form of antipathy toward individuals, groups, races, nationalities, ideologies, etc."

We generally think of prejudice as being against a specific race or culture, and that the effects of this harmful custom involve not only the group, but also injure any individual belonging to this group.

Even when our society has overcome some prejudices against classes and races, we are unable to avoid the tendency which still exists to feel prejudice toward certain groupsspecifically, toward persons with different abilities. Many people do not like to deal with disabled persons and often treat them as though they don't exist. But perhaps the worst insult of all is to refer to them as "special people." It is a fact that persons who have suffered the loss of a limb or have a problem with mobility are not "special"they are just human beings who have suffered a neuromuscular or skeletal problem.

The way this prejudice can be overcome is by means of effective communication. Many persons are afraid to enter into conversation with disabled individuals, perhaps because it makes them think about their own vulnerability.

As with any group against which there is prejudice, there are many erroneous ideas about disabled persons. For example, there is the idea that most persons with neuromuscular problems are also mentally deficient or that persons with physical disabilities are incapable of leading a normal lifemarrying, having children, and maintaining a home. It is as ridiculous to maintain that all physically disabled persons are mentally deficient as it is to say that all Mexicans are mariachis.

Unfortunately, this tendency toward prejudice also impedes the disabled person from having free access to employment. It is believed that amputees or others with a disability are unable to work adequately. This idea has had a very negative impact on offering employment to the disabled.

We are dismayed to observe that many employers have reservations about hiring persons with a disability, despite the fact that many of them have had previous training related to the type of work required.

As is the case with any group, it is obvious that that there are some disabled persons who prefer not to work. Because of this, though, much stereotyped thinking has arisen. Nevertheless, as with any minority group, the best cure for prejudice is to develop positive communication.

In basing our opinion about disabled persons, it is best if we take into consideration only their merits as individual human beings.

Alberto E. Castillo Moreno, OP, has served as president, secretary, and information officer for the Mexican Society of Orthotists and Prosthetists (SMOPAC) and has taught many continuing education courses presented by SMOPAC. He also is moderator for the Spanish-language Internet-based O&P forum, "Correos en Español."