Mentor Tip: Incorrect Assumptions

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Subject: Mentoring tips on incorrect assumptions

Successful people accept their disabilities as one aspect of who they are. They do not deny the existence of limitations, but they also do not allow their disabilities to define who they are. An important part of this self-awareness is learning to effectively deal with negative stereotypes and misunderstandings. The following comments were part of an online discussion about assumptions regarding people with disabilities, the topic for our next discussion in our e-community. They may provide you with valuable insights as you participate in our discussion.

  • Having cerebral palsy, I find almost everyone assumes that I am mentally disabled, too. I get annoyed with this. For a long time, I yearned to "fit in." But young people today want to stand out by coloring their hair and by wearing the "in" thing. I realize that I'm already there, and I accept my uniqueness. (adult with cerebral palsy)
  • People make a lot of false assumptions about the disabled. For example, they assume that just because I am blind I am not able to get around on my own. Someone will get hold of me and I don't have any idea who they are or where they are taking me. They assume that I don't know where I am going just because I can't see. (college student who is blind)
  • I like to assume that people are just trying to help. People, for instance, tell me when it is OK to cross the street. Some may think I can't do it without their help. Others may just think that they might as well tell me the light is green since they happen to be there. This is like when someone helps someone else carry heavy shopping bags up the steps—not because they think the other person can't do it, but just because they want to help. (adult who is blind)
  • I choose what people I want to take the time to explain my disability to. I communicate with an electronic device, so it would take all of my energy to explain it to everyone who looks cross-eyed at me. (adult with a mobility and speech impairment)
  • Human nature is to fear what you do not understand. This fear affects the way we are treated. My disability is Tourette's Syndrome, as well as some symptoms of various other disorders, including coordination problems. People assume that since I obsess and make facial movements and sounds that they consider strange, I am some sort of a freak of nature that must be avoided. Once people get to know me, they overcome these hang-ups. (high school student with Tourette's Syndrome)
  • A professor once told me that I probably couldn't see the board very well from where I was sitting. Frankly, I can't see the board from wherever I sit. (adult who is blind)
  • When people talk down to me, I usually ask some rather extreme question like "Do you think I am brain-dead?" Most people say that this is not a very good response. However, I think it is the way to go. (college student who is blind)
  • Last year, I went on a cruise. One night, I went up on deck to write in my journal. A couple walked by and sat next to me. The husband asked, "Is this English?" pointing to my chicken scratches. I said "Yes!" He looked at his wife and whispered, "Mentally retarded." Instead of getting mad, I started to talk to him and his wife. He and his wife were from the Bay Area. I told him I was from the Bay Area as well and working for Intel. I think they got the message that the label they put on me wasn't true. (adult with Cerebral Palsy)
  • I read lips and wear hearing aids. Sometimes people exaggerate their lip movements to the point where I can't understand them at all. Or sometimes they speak so slowly I fall asleep! Also, sometimes when I go tell someone that I'm deaf, they start signing to me. I'm sign language illiterate so that doesn't do me much good. But people are proud of their sign language skills, so I'm mostly amused and gently tell them thanks, but they just need to talk in their accustomed way and I'll understand them just fine—most of the time. But if a man has a droopy mustache, heaven help me! (adult with hearing impairment)
  • The more people have positive interactions with a person with a disability, the higher the likelihood that they will forget that they are a person with a disability and think of them as a person first. (graduate student with a hearing impairment)