How do you feel about your disabilities? Disability is not my life but part of my life. Perceptions

“Prior to the twentieth century, social attitudes reflected the view that persons with disabilities were unhealthy, defective and deviant. For centuries, society as a whole treated these people as objects of fear and pity. The prevailing attitude was that such individuals were incapable of participating in or contributing to society and that they must rely on welfare or charitable organizations.” 1

Many legislative and societal changes in the second half of the last century have had a great influence on the treatment of, and attitudes toward, people with intellectual and/or physical disabilities. The results of a poll conducted in the 1990s emphasized these changes.

• “… 98% of individuals questioned believe that all people, regardless of one’s ability, should have an opportunity to participate in mainstream society...

• 92% polled believed that employment of persons with disabilities would be economically beneficial to society.” 1 By contrast, a study published in Great Britain in 2014 reported:

• 67% of the British public feels uncomfortable talking to people with disabilities.

• 36% of people tend to think of people with disabilities as not as productive as everyone else.

• 85% of the British public believes that people with disabilities face prejudice.

• 21% of 18-34 years old admit that they have actually avoided

talking to persons with disabilities because they weren’t sure how to communicate with them.2 There is another side to this equation; how do individuals with disabilities view their disabilities? A study by the National Center for Special Education Research, Perceptions and Expectations of Youth with Disabilities provides important basic information for the interaction between family members, educators, potential employers and the young men and women with disabilities between 15 and 19 years of age.3 The large majority of information reported in this study comes from responses of youth with disabilities, either during a telephone interview or by a self-administered mail survey, which contained a subset of key items from the telephone interview. It is important to note that the subgroup of youth who could respond for themselves differs in several ways from youth who were unable to respond, according to their parents. For example, youth respondents are significantly more likely to have higher cognitive and self-care skills and are less likely to have sensory, physical, or communication difficulties.