Teach Your Children to Be Accepting of Disabilities

Teach Your Children to be Accepting of Disabilities; Removing the Stumbling Block

It’s not hard to teach our children to be accepting of disabilities. Children are naturally eager and excited to learn new things. Like sponges, they quickly absorb new words, concepts and ideas. Children learn through imitation, and as they grow older, they form habits and opinions by repeating what they see and hear. Unfortunately, it is just as easy to teach children to be unwelcoming, wary or even fearful of people with disabilities. 

When an adult walks past someone in a wheelchair, turning his head to the side to avoid making eye contact, the child next to him learns to avoid interactions with people in wheelchairs.

When a woman parks in the handicapped spot in a parking lot, she is teaching the children in her car that the needs of those who truly need such spots are insignificant.

When a woman deliberately avoids the checkout line at the grocery store with a clerk or bagger with disabilities, she teaches the children with her that this person’s work means less than someone else’s.

When a parent tells a teacher, in earshot of his own child, that he doesn’t want his son in class with “that” child; he teaches his son that a child with disabilities is less worthy of an education.

"Don't worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you." ~ Robert Fulghum

What if an adult looked the man using a wheelchair in the eye and said good morning?

What if a woman explained to the children in her car that the reason they have to walk a little farther this morning is because there are certain spots saved for people who don’t walk as well as they can on their own (fair isn’t always equal)?

What if a woman deliberately chose a line at the grocery store for the clerk with a disability, quietly explaining, outside the store, that they continue to shop at this very store because of its inclusive employment policies?

What if a parent told a teacher, in earshot of his son, that his son has already mastered the math lesson and would be happy to help another child in the class catch up?

Lead by example. Be the person you hope your children will become. Teach your children that a wheelchair is just a ride. Demonstrate the value of treating others with kindness. Discuss the significance of choosing your words carefully and standing up for equality and the rights of others.

What if….

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Do You Want to be Tolerated or Accepted?

Lately I have wanted to explore more deeply the ideas of acceptance and tolerance.  Both words are used quite frequently in discourse about inclusion of individuals with disability.  And while I have often heard these words used interchangeably, they have distinctly different meanings:

Acceptance - the action or process of being received as adequate or suitable, typically to be admitted into a group.

Tolerance - the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.

Taken straight from a Google search, this definition of tolerance can be understood as “putting up with” someone or something with which you disagree.  Based on this, I would automatically reject the idea of promoting tolerance of individuals with disabilities. 

Now there are other definitions of tolerance, like this one from dictionary.com: “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one's own; freedom from bigotry.  And while this is a less strident definition than the first, I still find myself associating a sense of negativity with tolerance.  Advocates will tell you that inclusion is being welcomed and embraced as a member who belongs.  This is acceptance.

I am not the only one who reads this subtle, yet critical, difference between these two words, right?

Here’s the thing; I don’t want to be tolerated.  I want to be accepted.  Tolerating brings with it a certain sense of pandering.  “Yeah, yeah…go ahead, I will tolerate it.” Don’t patronize me, be genuinely nice.  I would prefer it if you even liked me; but if you don’t, that’s ok, because I don’t like everyone, either.  I will treat you with the kavod (respect) that you deserve, and I expect you to do the same.  You might be different from me, and I might disagree with you, but I will accept that you are who you are. 

dan l’chaf z’chut - Judge every person favorably (Pirkei Avot 1:6) and do not judge another person until you have stood in his/her place (Pirkei Avot 2:5)

Another Response to the Pew Study - Did Anyone Count Jews With Disabilities?

I’m torn, really.  On the one hand, I REALLY do not want to jump on the Pew Survey response bandwagon.  Not at all.  Even mentioning the study at this point I run the risk of losing a dozen readers off the bat. There have been some great responses to be sure, but far too many to keep up and if I am honest, my eyes glaze over at the mention of yet one more response. 

I do realize that some are using the research as a call to action, while others are lamenting the woes of what it means to read statements like “the percentage of U.S. adults who say they are Jewish when asked about their religion has declined by about half since the late 1950s” and “secular or cultural Jews are not only less religious but also much less connected to Jewish organizations and much less likely to be raising their children Jewish.” Either way, I'm concerned that a distinct mark that has been missed.

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