Wolfram: Disabilities and the stigmas that surround them

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There is a big (albeit diminishing) stigma around having, and especially talking about, a disability. This pattern is ingrained in us as kids. It’s polite to ask someone what’s wrong if they don’t look well, but you’re also advised not to talk about chronic health issues when asked.

This stigma makes people afraid to ask about disabilities and it also makes people afraid to mention them, even to friends.

Some disabled people may get offended if you just ask them about their condition out of the blue, especially if you’ve never talked before. But no matter how obvious someone’s disability may seem, never ask about it unless the two of you have become comfortable with each other, unless it’s completely necessary.

However, you can ask a disabled individual if they’d like help with certain tasks, mostly of the physical variety. I know there are some days when I can barely force myself out of bed, let alone function. It’s on days like these that I am especially grateful for the people who offer to open doors for me or hold the elevator so I don’t have to scramble to catch it.

Other people who have disabilities may get offended if you offer to help them, but that is not typically the norm.

I used to be embarrassed about the fact that I couldn’t do everything myself and would lash out at those offering to help me in even the smallest ways. However, this all began to change as I did more work to accept my new body and disability.

As for us disabled folks, it’s important to be more open about our struggles and disabilities, especially to the right people. Obviously you should tell your doctor everything that is going on, but have you considered sharing some of your problems with the directors of the Academic Success Center?

They can work with you to come up with a list of accommodations that may help make school better for you and that would put you on even footing with your able-bodied peers. After you get a note from your doctor, these accommodations can be applied to all of your classes. I have found my accommodations particularly helpful for note taking, as well as for when I’m having a migraine or an episode of brain fog.

You should also consider opening up a bit to your professors. By no means do you have to tell them everything, but if you’re missing their class for a medical reason, don’t be afraid to write that in a quick email. Most times, they will be more than understanding. 

Also, don’t be afraid to let your friends in a little bit. They don’t have to know everything you go through on a daily basis, but you should try to become more comfortable opening up about your disabilities. Not only can it help you become closer, but it can also help in an emergency.

This is all a matter of comfortability, both for disabled and non-disabled students. I’ve found that the more comfortable you are with yourself, the more likely you are to both offer and receive help from strangers. If you aren’t quite there yet, it’s fine, but just remember that most people who ask will have your genuine interest at heart.

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