By Lori Simpson
Director, Resident Life
Much discussion has been had at Riderwood about fostering a culture of diversity. Enhancing our capacity to appreciate and value individual differences is a process in which we all benefit. However, an area that seems to receive less attention, but is no less important, is to embrace disability or those with differing abilities as a natural part of diversity. Disability is an inescapable element of human experience. Although it is rarely acknowledged as such, it is also a fundamental aspect of human diversity. Discussion regarding diversity has often focused on gender and race. In contrast, there has been limited attention given to people with disabilities.
People with disabilities are our nation’s largest minority and the only one that any of us can join at any time. If you do not currently have a disability, you have about a 20% chance of becoming disabled at some point during your lifetime. People with disabilities cross all racial, gender, educational, socioeconomic, and organizational lines. Disabilities may affect one’s senses or one’s mobility; they may be static or progressive, congenital or acquired, affect the shape of the body or its function and can be visible or invisible. Individuals with acquired disabilities, those that come upon us through accidents or aging, are more likely to resist or even reject identification as disabled. People who were born deaf and whose first language is American Sign do not always see this difference as a disability but rather a class distinction. In any case, the border between the disabled and the non-disabled is less permanent and more permeable than those between races and genders and other minority groups. At Riderwood the most recognizable “disability” is that of having mobility needs. We can see the mobility devices and the scooters daily. We don’t always see the struggles other people have: the hidden disabilities. Hidden disabilities include, but are not limited to: learning, vision or hearing loss, results from emotional trauma, psychiatric conditions, significant allergies or chemical sensitivities or cognitive decline over time.
Statistics in the U.S. show that two years before their death most people were disabled, defined as needing help with activities of daily living in two or more areas. Women fare worse, as they tend to have a longer period of disability than a man who each live to be 80 years old. Within a disability category, people with the same disability may have significantly different needs that can be based on their attitudes, abilities, personalities, histories, and resources. Disability is just one part of the diversity of being human.
Most people want to believe they are tolerant; however it may be time to consider moving beyond tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual. The concept of true diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding each individual is unique and recognizing our individual differences, including those that alter the way we travel down a hallway, when we require assistance to eat, or how easily we retain information. We all have purpose, and our lives need meaning and the acceptance, respect and even friendship of those around us.