Difficulties tackling stereotypes.

There are millions of disabled people throughout life all of whom are individuals, not only disabled in a variety of ways but with different hobbies and individual interests. Unfortunately, there’s the commonly perceived stereotype that all disabled people are somehow less intelligent than those whom are able-bodied. Further stereotypes reinforce the idea of them being unable to do anything effective, and being generally unable to give value. Therefore, people seemingly believe that just because a disabled person cannot physically do certain activities, they are mentally inferior to them too.

Stereotyping is common place; it often seems the norm for people to automatically take this view about the disabled. As a disabled person myself, I have had first-hand experience of this negative stereotype. A woman I had met for the very first time began to speak condescendingly towards me, expressing the stereotype that as I’m disabled I should be approached in such a manner; assuming I must be mentally ‘incomplete’ to her. As the conversation continued towards my exam results her tone completely altered to that in which she’d previously been addressing an able-bodied friend of mine.

Where does this stereotype come from? Many stories old and new all have hidden meanings of disabled people as being somewhat incomplete, when compared to others. Research by psychologists and sociologists concluded that such stories, as King Arthur where he gathered his Knights around the Round Table with an empty perilous seat which it was fatal to sit except for the perfect Knight. When a perfectly formed Knight came his bodily perfection was matched by spiritual perfection and he sat in the chair unharmed. Therefore, the ‘perfect’ body was the direct key to his acceptance; also, worthy of note is that the ‘perfect’ Knight was white, young and male. This ideal of perfection has been further exaggerated throughout History and can be found in many other films where villains are always ugly and deformed in some manner, heroes and heroines are possessed of beauty and grace. The modern era and film portrayal still make attempts of mockery with films such as ‘Special Needs (2006)’ which is a dark comedy/satire about three reality TV producers creating show about people with physical and mental disabilities.

The stereotype can be that strong that even a former US President F.D Roosevelt was disabled but would conceal it. When delivering speeches for example he would force all his weight onto his hands to stand upright. This was because he believed he would stand no chance of re-election if his disability became public knowledge, he would be described as incapable by many people. One can only question whether anything has changed.

Other disabilities like Cerebral palsy often carry the misconception of severe mental impairment when they struggle to communicate. However, this does not mean they are less clever, just that they are unable to communicate in what others would assume the ‘correct’ manner.

The belief that disabled people are unable to contribute to society is also wrong. This can be proved through the example of Steven Hawking’s. Himself a dramatic influence over the way we see the universe and one of the greatest minds at this time yet severely physically disabled. It can however be explained as enhancing other abilities that they may possess for example with Steven Hawking’s he himself has even said that due to his disability he has lots more time to just theorise within his own mind, than most of us really would concentrate on.

This demonstrates that the stereotype is often incorrect and people should not focus on these preconceived beliefs before even speaking to the actual individual. There are a number of factors that could be implemented to alter these attitudes. They need to begin to distinguish between fiction and factual stories. In Snow White and the Seven Dwarves plays enacting the story they use disabled people with the medical condition dwarfism, this is fundamentally wrong – as it gives the idea that these people are somewhat mythical and are fictional. This creates entrenchment of ideas at an early age and socialization. The way they are represented on Television and in films, they need to be in positions of social contribution with regular work for example.

Until these what would seem minor points are altered the stereotype can’t be attempted to be broken.

Ryan Worth

Crewe & Nantwich Disability Campaigns Officer
NWYL Disability Officer