Over the last decade, I’ve really seen a change in society’s attitude towards folks living with disabilities. In a good way.
In both urban and rural communities, I have seen restaurants with sections where tables are designed particularly for folks with disabilities, stores with lowered counters so someone in a wheelchair can reach the cash register, and gas stations with disabled pumps so when you pull up to one, an attendant comes out to pump your gas for you at no extra cost.
I’ve also seen it in the eyes and actions of individuals themselves. Little things are sometimes the most tell tale. If you have a disability, people look you in the eye instead of looking away and ask if they can offer a hand if they see you struggling with something instead of ignoring you. Then there are of course children.
Kids learn from their surroundings. Their parents, their families, their teachers, their community. Instead of hiding behind Mom or Dad, kids come up to me and ask me why am I in a wheelchair? I get a smile and a wave from a five-year-old at an ice cream stand, and I smile and wave back.
Children are always my thermometer of how our society treats people living with disabilities. And the tide is turning. I instill in the children in my life that just because somebody is different or has a disability, doesn’t mean they aren’t smart, doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings and doesn’t mean they don’t want to be included.
My nieces and nephews know if they meet or know of a disabled child at school or in the community, they should introduce themselves. They should tell the child with the disability they have someone in their family who uses a wheelchair, and they may know how to help them with something they need from experience of spending time with me.
Recently, I received a comment from an individual living with a disability in the town of Peoria, Arizona. She said her community was really inviting to individuals with disabilities, especially those in wheelchairs. Not only inviting, but inclusive. Not simply tolerating, accepting.
That is the first time someone has written to me how accepting their community is towards individuals with disabilities. And the young woman who wrote the comment had only lived in Peoria for about a year. It wasn’t her hometown, filled with people she grew up with.
Thank you, Peoria, Arizona, for being an example of how communities should accommodate individuals with disabilities and do everything they can not only to make the community accessible, but make individuals feel welcome and feel they have a home. It’s hard being the new kid on the block, especially if you have a disability.
The tides are turning. And not because I received one comment from one individual. It’s because behind every individual who takes the time to write a comment, I believe there are countless people like them that feel the same way.