March is Disability Awareness Month
Considering disability and an inclusive community
The Ability Center of Toledo, in partnership with the Toledo City Paper, is championing the businesses and organizations that make their facilities accessible to individuals with differing abilities. In 2022, the Ability Center, the City of Toledo and several local cultural organizations announced a joint effort to make Toledo “the most accessible city in America.”
Toledo has a long history of supporting people with disabilities over more than a century. Here are a few examples: The Ability Center was designated by the State of Ohio as a Center for Independent Living in 1990, the same year the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed, as a one-stop resource for Ohioans with disabilities, providing a variety of programs and services. Recently, the Metroparks along with other local groups have built accessible playgrounds and outdoor spaces while the Toledo Museum of Art offers specialized tours for sight impaired visitors and those with dementia along with special sensory opportunities for those on the autism spectrum. The Toledo Ballet offers classes for young people with Down Syndrome and those on the autism spectrum and the Toledo Lucas County Public Library offers a selection of children’s books focusing on disability identity.
Stats about individuals with disabilities
One (1) in four (4) Americans has a disability and about 80% of those with a disability acquire it between the ages of 18 and 64. As people who study the effects of disability point out, many people are only temporarily able-bodied. A disability is a condition of the body or mind that makes it difficult for the affected person to do certain things in order to interact with the world around them. And awareness of invisible disabilities is on the rise.
One quarter of the US population is faced with a world that presents challenges to accomplish the activities of daily living. This forces individuals to create solutions in order to accomplish daily tasks, to be patient with others who are uninformed or not understanding of their challenges. Those with disabilities need to be persistent, to repeatedly attempt to complete tasks and projects without needed accommodations and they need to empathize to understand the frustration of others with their situation.
Many disabilities are not visible
A disability is often thought of as something physical, that can be seen, such as a person using a wheelchair, or a person wearing hearing aids or using a cane to navigate terrain. But there are also invisible disabilities that cannot easily be detected such as lupus, chronic pain or Crohn’s disease. Individuals with mental health issues or other neurodivergent characteristics often present in a way that doesn’t divulge what they’re dealing with. So, one goal of advocacy promotion, like March’s designation as Disability Awareness Month, is to make people more aware that they cannot know and understand another person’s challenges simply by looking at them. As with many things in life, it’s best to assume that individuals that you encounter have good intentions while also considering that your impression of a person may not provide a full picture of their challenges.
Etiquette and terminology surrounding disabilities
When you encounter individuals with disabilities, ask them how they’d like to be referred to. The prevailing wisdom is to use “person first”, such as referring to someone as a “person with a disability.” That approach is preferable to describing them by the disability itself. Instead of describing someone as “an amputee,” say instead “person with a limb difference.” Instead of describing someone as “crazy,” refer to them as a person with a mental health issue. A person is not “confined to a wheelchair.” Rather, a person moves with a wheelchair, using it as a tool that allows mobility.
Although lending a helping hand can be greatly appreciated, don’t assume someone needs help — ask first or wait for them to ask you to help. Don’t push someone’s wheelchair without securing that person’s express permission. Assistance or working dogs are working — so don’t bother them; ask their human if you can interact with the dog.
Most public buildings are now equipped with wheelchair-accessible entrances — ramps, curb cuts, push-button door openers. People with hearing impairment can access a closed-captioning device when watching a movie at the theater. Many public meetings are now simulcast on the web with closed captioning to accommodate people who may not be able to attend in person due to chronic illness, fatigue or pain or who cannot hear what’s being said.
Consequently, recently there has been a rise of diagnoses and accommodations in the workplace for people whose brains work differently. A resource to review and to facilitate a discussion with your manager is the Ask Job Accommodation Network, askjan.org, which lists accommodations that are helpful to people with different types of disabilities.
The Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation, a part of the state agency Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities, is a local resource which can help pay for equipment needed for people with disabilities to be able to thrive in a work environment. A Job Accommodation Network study found that 60% of workplace accommodations can be made at no cost, while the remainder of workplace accommodations have an average cost of less than $500.
In addition to programming, the Ability Center of Greater Toledo is a clearinghouse for information about local disability services and resources. Review the Center’s comprehensive toolkit at abilitycenter.org/toolkit
CODA stands for child of deaf adults and this film shows the experience of one CODA who wants to pursue a career in music but worries about abandoning her Deaf parents.
Crip Camp, a documentary about Camp Jened, a summer camp in the Catskills for young people with disabilities. In the 1970s, it was one of the first places to truly embrace teens with disabilities, many of whom were meeting friends like themselves for the first time. Several years later, many of those campers moved out to Berkeley, California, where their solidarity and activism shaped the city to their needs. Several went on to influence disability policies across America and internationally.
Sound of Metal, a drama featuring Riz Ahmed who plays a heavy metal drummer who loses his hearing. He obtains a cochlear implant but it causes more noise than signal, leaving him to adapt his life so that he can live surrounded by other Deaf people who communicate using sign language.
“Accessible America: a History of Disability and Design,” by Bess Williamson. A thorough history of how accommodations for disability developed in America throughout the 20th century. Beginning with designs for returning veterans with limb differences who needed to be able to perform at industrial jobs and drive themselves in an automobile. To the ways that prosthetics have been designed and utilized artistically to enhance function, performance and aesthetics.
“Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Advocate,” by Judy Heumann with Kristen Joiner. Judy Heumann has worked as an advisor on disability rights and policies to several U.S. Presidents and the World Bank. She contracted polio as a young person and has since used a wheelchair. She is one of the featured campers in the documentary Crip Camp, and was a founding member of the Berkeley Center for Independent Living. Her advocacy helped to develop and pass the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons.
“Disability Visibility: First Person Stories from the Twenty-first Century,” edited by Alice Wong. This collection of essays from writers with disabilities demonstrates the broad spectrum of experience that disability produces – from a meditation on a guide dog to a manifesto on disability justice. A great book to get a sense of the landscape of disability experience.
“True Biz,” by Sara Novic. A novel that explores the spectrum of Deaf culture and experience at a school for deaf students. Includes portrayals that show the overlap between American Sign Language, cochlear implants and vocalization as well as cultural issues related to hearing loss in families, styles of education and socialization, and the insular and protective nature of the Deaf community.
“What Can a Body Do? How We Meet the Built World,” by Sara Hendren. Hendren talks about the ways that design can adapt our world to respond and interact better with atypical bodies. From a vegetable peeler designed for a person with arthritis to a system of architectural design for a school for deaf students.
Disability Rights Advocates:
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Disability Rights Ohio
The Ability Center