Saturday, January 21, 2012

Helping To Teach Tolerance

One good aspect of being the only blind member in your family is your ability to teach tolerance. It’s the perfect way for a “normal” person to have positive interactions with a disabled person. Most of all problems start from lack of knowledge. Having a disabled person in the family is a chance to learn that different is beautiful.

Many people react strongly when face to face with someone who is different than what they are used to. For some it’s hard to even approach a disabled person. They may even give them a wide birth and simply stare from a distance. Unfortunately, there is a multitude of complications with this reaction. First, by not approaching the person you may be missing out on a meaningful interaction that could form a long lasting friendship. Second, the person you’re staring at probably is well aware of the fact that you are staring at them. Third, you’re missing out on a chance to answer your own inquiries about the type of disability the person has.

Another common reaction is to treat the disabled person as though they are not mentally capable of holding an intelegent conversation/dialogue. For example: It’s never necessary to treat a thirty year old blind man as though he has the mental capacity of a three year old. All this will cause is a negative response from the person you’re attempting to interact with. The only incidence you should talk to a person as though they are a child is if they are one.
If you see a blind person (or any other type of disabled person) don’t be afraid to approach them. They wont bite, at least not mormaly. If you like their shirt tell them. If you have a question ask it of them. If asked appropriately the question will more than likely receive a positive reaction and maybe you will learn something about the person in the process. The only dumb question is the one you didn’t ask. I myself would much rather have someone ask me a question about my blindness then have them sit there and stare at me wondering silently.

When a disabled person is in your family that allows you to have normal day to day interactions with that person. It unconsciously teaches you that there’s a person behind the disability. They are not just a label from a pigeon hole stereotype. They have feelings, thoughts, opinions and knowledge that are valuable if just given the chance to express them. Instead of saying “this is my cousin Nikki and she’s blind”, maybe you’ll learn to say “this is my cousin Nikki and she’s a funny, intelegent wonderful person who just happens to be blind”. A disability is a very small part of someone. It is in no way, shape, or form the defining factor of their character.

A wonderful example of learned tolerance from my own life is that of my niece. She has grown up with a blind auntie pretty much all of her life. She has never known me with sight at least that she remembers. I lost my sight when she was far to young to have a strong recollection of me being able to see her.

When she was barely in grade school she was faced with a blind classmate that was in her grade. None of her other classmates played with the blind girl and she was always alone at recess other than her helper. A lot of the kids stared and whispered about her and rarely talked to her directly.

This of course changed with my niece. She was used to being around me, so she knew the right way to interact and assist a blind person. She took it apon herself to talk to the girl and get to know her. She assisted her when needed without doing so in a mocking way. They became good friends both at school and outside of it. My niece didn’t allow a small difference to influence her decision to make a knew friend. I am very proud of her for taking the chance and going against the grain.

If more people took this stand in life it would be a much more tolerant place for all. Difference IS beautiful and knowledge IS power. I challenge my readers to make an effort to connect with a person they would otherwise not interact with. I promise the result will be worth it and will have a meaningful impact on your life.

PS… I apologize for referring to the girl in my example as “the blind girl”. This was in no way intended to go against my advice and place a label on her. I don’t like to name names in my stories and it was simply a method of differentiating her in the story for clarification purposes only.

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