"Look at the cripple!" I hear comments like this on a daily basis. At my high school, most people know me from the outside; the "disabled kid." Those who take the time to have a conversation with me get to know "the inside" me, the "normal" high school student. The people who know what is inside me lose comprehension of their prior "outside" thoughts. As I live my life, I see how we label others. As a society, we need to look beyond stereotypes, in this case towards people with disabilities, in order to create an equal society.
What is a stereotype? According to Dictionary.com a stereotype is, "A conventional, formulaic, and oversimplified conception, opinion, or image." Stereotypes block a person from seeing the individualities of people who they confine to a stereotype. As a person with a disability, you see first hand how stereotypes affect our relationships.
Last spring I ran into a wall: a stereotype. I put in my name as a candidate to become the next ASB President, the highest position in student government at my school. As an active, four-year member of ASB and the coordinator of many activities, I had many qualifications. Many staff thought I was a shoe-in, but the student body had the vote. My speech stated, "I am here for action, not for a title." The other candidate had some qualifications but wanted popularity more than a service opportunity, which was obvious in his speech about "riding the wave." When the votes were tallied, he won by a margin of less than ten percent. A few weeks later, I found out through my friends what hindered me from receiving enough votes ... people said they did not vote for me because of my disability.
This angered my friends, as they knew that I was more than qualified. The election, however, was ultimately based on popularity, not qualifications. I too was mad and even though I was not president, I still decided to take action. My action came six months later. I needed to change the views my peers had of me as well as other people with disabilities, so I came up with the idea of having a Disability Day at school. After getting all of the approval, I scheduled the 2005 Disability Awareness Day on December 9, giving me little more than three months to plan. The Administration thought it was a lot to pull together in the timeframe I set, but I needed action; the idea was burning in my head.
On the morning of December 9, 2005, Klahowya's Student Service Center looked more like a hospital. With the help of four Klahowya clubs, United Cerebral Palsy, and four local businesses, students received the opportunity to simulate having a disability for the school day. This temporary hospital was unlike others. It was to heal relationships despite all of their differences for a lifetime. The evaluations from the participants showed a positive change had been made on students' thoughts towards people with disabilities.
The day concluded with an all-school assembly. In my four and a half years at Klahowya, I have not seen a more emotional assembly. Our guest speakers were Kevin & Melinda Berg, a unique couple from Seattle. Kevin has severe Cerebral Palsy, causing his body to be in constant motion and making his speech incomprehensible to the untrained ear. Although he must use his entire body just to voice a few words, he still became a motivational speaker, in this case, speaking in front of over one thousand students. His wife, Melinda, translated what he said, so if people did not understand him, they still got the message. To watch the amount of effort Kevin put out was overwhelmingly inspiring and even painful to watch. To prove that people with disabilities are not "retarded" or "crippled," Kevin stated, "He could do calculus in his head!" There are also some people who are affected mentally by a disability and therefore might not be able to comprehend as much as "normal" people, but they sure can make you smile!
At the end of the assembly, the emotions could be seen. Students were crying after seeing the amount of difficulty people can have and still accomplish their goals. They saw first hand the amount of drive many people with disabilities can possess. The attentiveness of the audience was simply amazing, the gym of over one thousand students silent with their eyes fixed on the speaker. People were congratulating me on the turn out. I cannot take all the credit, all the minor details were taken care of by the clubs and United Cerebral Palsy. Many staff members e-mailed me their comments. One teacher wrote, "The speaker was very 'painful' to listen to, but as you got used to him, you could start to understand. It made me realize how hard Daman works to enunciate words."
People should not need a Disability Awareness Day to find the correct glasses to look through. The vision of any person should be through clear eyes with no stereotypes. Though these eyes cannot be physically seen, everyone posses them in their mind. Forms of these glasses are awareness days, which include days such as Martin Luther King Jr. Day or the Disability Awareness Day. People who have eyes that are affected by stereotypes often discriminate against others. To level society's playing field, everyone needs to look at others with clear eyes in order to break down the stereotypical wall. Do you have stereotypical eyes?