There's a battle going on today. We who are physically challenged fight an age-old conflict for acceptance by “normal” society. While this is a battle worth pursuing, we need to look honestly at ourselves as we strive toward acceptance and equal opportunity. Are we tackling this with proper attitudes or are our attitudes obstruct-ing our goals?
Think about it. Seriously.
Does society have difficulty accepting us because we are disabled or because we are not presenting ourselves appropriately? If we truly wish to be accepted as vital, contributing, significant people, it is our responsibility to see that we earn that privilege and that respect. No one can do this for us: no peaceful demonstrations, no revolts, no marching around with placards, and no amount of legislation can do this. Only we can, through the way we speak, act, treat others, and present ourselves to the world.
The steps in achieving this goal are straightforward and simple, and ones which non-challenged people must do as well. However, we may have to work harder to prove we are as productive, as dependable, as reliable, as likeable and as worthwhile as people without visible challenges. While this may seem unfair, that's the way it is. Life is rarely as we would like it to be. If we wish to be accepted by society, we must prove we are worth knowing and can make valuable contributions to others' lives. There are several practical ways to accomplish this. We must:
1. Always do our best.
This is extremely important. Our challenges do not give us the license to give less than our absolute best. Sadly, some think otherwise. They believe their disabilities gives them excuses not to work as hard or not to do as well. Unfortunately, these few individuals paint the rest of us with their colors. This “poor me” attitude seriously damages everyone else's acceptance by society and so it should! Like everyone else, we must give all we do our utmost effort and be the best we can possibly be. No exceptions.
2. Put others at ease.
My mother taught me this when I was in that awkward teenage stage made even more awkward by my disability. I still practice what she told me to this day. Now, following many interesting life experiences, I know Mom gave me the best advice anyone could have given me. She told me it was up to me to make people feel comfortable as many felt uneasy when they first met me, simply because they had never met a person with a disability before. They were afraid of saying or doing the “wrong” thing, so first meetings were often difficult until I put people at ease. There are many ways to do this, but I keep it simple. I'm friendly, smile, and keep the conversation light. I ask them about their interests and their passions. Let's face it; people like talking about themselves and their opinions. This is a great way to put people at ease and gain new friends! I have several now that I would have never had if Mom had not given me her sage advice!
3. Be grateful.
We must express our gratitude when others help us, even if we did not ask for it, which happens occasionally. In today's society, where good manners are often neglected, people still appreciate hearing “Please” and “Thank you” for their efforts. Don’t just expect help and forget your manners. Express your appreciation with friendliness and sincerity.
4. Be honest.
We know our limitations better than anyone else does, so we need to let people know when we need help and how they can help us. Most people do not mind lending a hand, but we must teach them how. We must tell them or show them what we need because we are the experts on us!
5. Accept our limitations.
Yes. It's often a pain, but the fact is, we cannot do everything people without disabilities can, so do not expect to and accept that. The sooner we do, the easier life will be as we won't be tempted to feel sorry for ourselves.
6. Know our strengths.
Depending on the type of disability we face there are things we will never be able to do. But, who cares! The Lord knew what He was doing when He made us. We are not “cosmic mistakes” but wonderful individuals for whom He has a special task. We have talents and abilities with which to touch other's lives. We need to use those strengths to help and encourage others.
Often we are on the receiving end of giving because we need help with opening doors, navigating stairs, getting into and out of vehicles, packing groceries etc. It’s easy to get complacent if we are not careful. But don’t! Instead, we need to learn what we have to give and give generously and cheerfully. We can't and shouldn't expect others to serve us all the time and treat them as though they are at our every beck and call! They are not. Wherever and whenever we can, let's give liberally and joyfully.
8. Show genuine interest in others.
We need to develop our knowledge of issues and interests so we can make meaningful contributions to conversations. If we don’t know anything about the topic, we can always ask questions. People enjoy being listened to and talking about their interests.
9. Establish and maintain eye- contact.
We already know we are valuable. It is up to us to display that assurance by looking people confidently in the face when we speak with them. By doing this, we are showing others we are comfortable with who we are and in turn, make them feel comfortable with us! Remember, it is our responsibility to put others at ease, not theirs!
10. Join a support group.
Even when we do all the right things, fitting into “normal” society is not always easy. If we struggle with this, there are many support groups for people facing similar struggles. When we put our heads together and brainstorm solutions, I am confident we'll find many more than we initially thought.
Life comes loaded with challenges. Everyone has one or more whether they have a visible disability or not. Finding where we belong and where we fit is one of the most exciting adventures of all. We are not less valuable than non- disabled people are, but neither are we more valuable. Let's check our attitude. Are we truly doing all we can to fill our place as contributing members of society? Are we doing our utmost to enrich other's lives? If the answer is "no", let's quickly ask ourselves why and get going!
Think about it. Seriously.
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