Myths About People with Disabilities

Myths and misconceptions about people with disabilities impact all of us. Learning to replace these myths and stereotypes with realities is an important step toward ending discrimination and eliminating barriers that can limit people with disabilities. The message is that it is ability and skills, not disability that counts!

MYTH: People with disabilities always need help.
REALITY: Many people with disabilities are quite independent and capable of giving help.

MYTH: All persons who use wheelchairs are chronically ill or sick.
REALITY: A person may use a wheelchair for a variety of reasons, none of which may have anything to do with lingering illness. For instance: MS is not a disease.

MYTH: Only people in wheel chairs or who use crutches are disabled.
REALITY: People with disabilities are among our friends, family members, co-workers and respected leaders. Just because a disability can’t be seen it doesn’t mean that a person does not have one or more. One out of every five Americans has a disability. Statistics also show that only 32 percent of working-age people with disabilities are employed compared with 81 percent of the non-disabled population (a gap of 49 points)1. And similar gaps also exist in other major life activities, such as: community, political and religious participation.

MYTH: Learning disabilities are only academic in nature. They do not affect other areas of a person’s life.
REALITY: Some people with learning disabilities have isolated difficulties in reading, writing or mathematics. However, most people with learning disabilities have more than one area of difficulty. Dr. Larry Silver asserts that “learning disabilities are life disabilities”. He writes, “the same disabilities that interfere with reading, writing, and arithmetic also will interfere with sports and other activities, family life, and getting along with friends.” (Silver, 1998)

MYTH: Wheelchair users are paralyzed and, therefore, are confined to their chairs.
REALITY: Some people can walk, but their strength may be limited so they use a wheelchair to enable them to travel longer distances. Also, some people who use wheelchairs prefer to transfer to more comfortable chairs such as those at their desk or in a restaurant.

MYTH: Deaf people cannot speak.
REALITY: Deafness does not affect the vocal cords, although it can affect a person’s ability to hear and monitor the sounds they make. Some people who are deaf make a conscious choice not to use their voice while others choose to speak. The type and degree of hearing loss as well as the age of the person when they became deaf (i.e. before or after learning to speak English) also influences their speech.

MYTH: People with disabilities live very different lives than people without disabilities.
REALITY: Overall, people with disabilities live the same as you and I. Although, some ways of doing things may be a little bit different depending on the type and severity of the disability. For example, someone with limited use of their arms and legs can drive, but their car will be fitted with hand controls for gas and brakes and possibly a special handle to grip on the steering wheel.

MYTH: Employees with disabilities have a higher absentee rate than employees without disabilities.
REALITY: Studies by firms such as DuPont show that employees with disabilities are not absent any more than employees without disabilities. In fact, these studies show that on the average, people with disabilities have better attendance rates than their non-disabled counterparts.

MYTH: It is important to place persons with disabilities in jobs where they will not fail.
REALITY: Everyone has the right to fail as well as to succeed. Be careful not to hold someone back from a position or a promotion because you think that there is a possibility that he or she might fail in the position. If this person is the best-qualified candidate, give them the same opportunity to try that you would give anyone else.

MYTH: Deaf persons do not appreciate music, theater, movies, etc., because they cannot hear.
REALITY: Today many movies and television shows are captioned. That means that conversations appear as words on the screen. If a program is open captioned, no special decoder is needed. If a show is closed captioned, a TV with a decoder is needed. The Americans with Disabilities Act mandates that all new televisions 13 inches and larger MUST include a built-in caption decoder. Many theaters offer special performances that are interpreted into sign language. Again, the type and degree of hearing loss as well as the age of the person when they became deaf also influences their appreciation of music.

MYTH: Blind people have exceptional hearing.
REALITY: A person’s vision, or lack of vision, does not affect their hearing. However, someone who is blind may depend more on their hearing and be more attuned to sounds than a sighted counterpart.

MYTH: An employer’s worker’s compensation rates rise when they hire disabled workers.
REALITY: Insurance rates are based solely on the relative hazards of the operation and the organization’s accident experience, not on whether workers have disabilities. A study conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers showed that 90% of the 279 companies surveyed reported no effect on insurance costs as a result of hiring workers with disabilities.

(Source: ©2006, CSD at Michigan State University, 441 Union Building, E. Lansing, MI 48824)

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