Throughout the years, disabled and non-disabled people alike have joined forces to advocate for disability rights and accommodations. Unfortunately, despite efforts to dispel ableism and implement laws to protect people with disabilities, harmful misconceptions still run rampant among non-disabled folks. Common half-truths and assumptions further marginalize disabled folks, often dehumanizing and infantilizing them, creating an even deeper divide between able-bodied and disabled people. In particular, wheelchair users have fought long and hard against outdated misconceptions, attempting to bridge the gap between untrue beliefs and the reality of mobility impairments.
Fortunately, disability advocacy exploded during 2020 and 2021, allowing people with disabilities to shed light on everyday obstacles and break down harmful assumptions. If you’re a non-disabled person dedicated to dismantling ableism in your community, read on for ways you can combat misconceptions surrounding disabled individuals.
There’s an outdated assumption that people with disabilities—specifically wheelchair users—live reliant, dependent lives, unable to function on their own. However, while accommodations vary based on individual conditions and comfort levels, people with limited mobility are more than capable of living fulfilling, autonomous lives. Through state-of-the-art assistive tech and community-led accessibility advocacy, those with restricted mobility can navigate the world with fewer obstacles.
For example, lightweight wheelchairs like those from So Lite Mobility increase range of motion and allow users to move around more freely without being bogged down by heavy equipment. Additionally, made-to-order models allow those with mobility impairments to tailor features to their individual needs, promoting increased maneuverability and comfort.
Though disabled people often face similar challenges and parallel experiences, they are not a monolith. Every person with a disability—even those with an identical diagnosis—has unique lived experiences and accessibility needs. While some mobility impaired folk use a wheelchair full-time, others use a chair off and on depending on pain levels, navigational restrictions, and personal preference. To better understand the needs of disabled folks in your life, take time to learn about their individual preferences and ditch the one-size-fits-all mindset regarding disabilities.
A deep-rooted, extraordinarily harmful misconception about wheelchair users is that they are unsatisfied with life and unable to partake in “normal” activities. First and foremost, it’s important to deconstruct normality and celebrate the intricate, distinct nature of individual experience. After all, what is a “normal” life? Regardless of disability or marginalization, every person creates their own set of rules and pushes against the status quo. Though wheelchair users may take a different route than non-disabled individuals, it’s hurtful to assume an alternate avenue is abnormal or inferior.
Despite beliefs that wheelchair users lack romance, it’s wildly untrue to assume disabled individuals lack romantic prospects and allure. When it comes to dating, finding a compatible partner who shares your values and interests can be a tedious quest regardless of disability.
Although dating as a mobility-impaired person can produce additional challenges due to ableist attitudes, wheelchair users still lead healthy dating lives and pursue that romantic spark.
Though some wheelchair users may ask for assistance every so often to navigate rugged terrain or inaccessible spaces, persistently offering service can become aggravating and infantilizing. Mobility-impaired people require various levels of aid, with some leaning on caretakers to tick off everyday tasks and others utilizing more sparing requests for assistance. Instead of endless offers, consider checking in with your disabled friends, asking how to best advocate for their needs and when to lend a helping hand.
Though it can be challenging to know how and when to offer help, you can begin by dispelling harmful beliefs, advocating against ableism, and listening to disabled people in your life. Just make sure you check your privilege and refrain from overstepping when discussing disability rights and ableism in your community.