Globalization has made the average person much more aware of his or her surroundings. We as a people have become more in tune with one another and have embraced different ideas, cultures and life styles. We are more socially accepting of the needs of cultures different then us and we are constantly finding ways for everyone to feel comfortable in the area they live in while embracing their thoughts and beliefs.
Culture, however, expands much deeper than a group of people based on race or location. Culture can be a binding of people with similar outlooks. For example, the deaf culture is vast, far beyond language; the deaf culture is as rich and interesting as any other far away land.
Since we are taking the time to learn about different cultures or different needs of specific groups, there is one group that exists in every culture, those with special needs. Though we have advanced from the times we institutionalized our special needs people, we still must be aware of their needs and how to make this group feel accepted in our fast paced society. I sat down with Educational Resource Facilitator Karen Del Ben to discuss her knowledge from working with special needs students and to debunk the myths that those with special needs cannot function in our society.
Those with special needs could be a person who is paraplegic but also be a person who has downs syndrome. The phrase, “special needs” is vast and there are many obstacles to overcome. According to Karen, there are a few things that we can do to make it easier for those with special needs to integrate well with society. With a little knowledge and understanding, the transition can be easy for some of those with special needs to live and work.
What should society be doing to help those with special needs to enter our workforce?
Karen: There needs to be more acceptance and education around the abilities of people rather than their disabilities. When you compile a resume for an employer, you list all of your skills and abilities for your employer to see what you can do and how you can be an asset to their company. The same concept should also be accepted for those with disabilities. Employers need to look at the skills of a person rather than their inabilities.
Employers should be educated through company workshops regarding the treatment and workplace placement of those with disabilities in order to give a fair chance to all people that apply. Teaching acceptance and informing employers of the different kinds of accessible technology that can assist a disabled person in the workplace can help reform the workplace.
What are the fears that businesses have for hiring those with special needs?
Fear of the unknown can be a problem. If a company has never employed a person with disabilities it might be an experience that they are unfamiliar with. I think the biggest problem with companies not employing people with disabilities is the attitude towards people with disabilities. The thought that those that have disabilities cannot perform the same way as able bodied person is incorrect.
The cost of hiring a disabled person might also be another fear companies might have. The cost of assistive technology, building upgrades and programs needed to have a disabled employee. What many employers don’t know is that there are programs within the Canadian government that can assist with the cost of technology that is available.
Hiring people that have disabilities allows a company to grow and become more inclusive towards others. Disabled people bring different perspectives to companies and can assist in developing products, programs or provide services to other people who are disabled. This allows the market to become more accessible to others.
What can society do to integrate with those with special needs?
Education and training is the key to becoming an inclusive society. There have been many television commercials that have been geared towards the abilities of disabled people. For Example, Showing the public that all blind people are completely blind, and not all disabled people sit in wheelchairs is one of the ways that the message can get across to non-experienced people.
Training on acceptance, empathy, and on specific disabilities can help people that are unfamiliar with disabilities be more accepting.
Karen’s points are all valid for the working world to make small adaptions so all people can have a true equal opportunity for potential work. Del Ben bases the funding that is available in Canada. It is encouraged that readers from around the world see if their country offers similar aid to businesses.
We are aware that understanding is the main tool to lead progression for those with special needs in the work place. But what about help at home for families of those with special needs?
What kind of help do families with those with special needs need?
Families with those with special needs need programs that allow families to be families. For instance, there are many camp programs for families with children with special needs to go to that offer opportunities for all families be able to participate at the same time; Such as families being able to water ski together regardless of the price of the equipment that is needed to be adapted for their special needs child.
Assistance by businesses and government can also help families with special needs, by researching their demographic and providing assistance to those that need it. Removing the barrier of cost can assist many families that need updated equipment and services for their children more easily available. Research and funding can assist families with the cost of expensive equipment and programs.
How has the media become more accepting to those with special needs?
When I was a child, I don’t really remember many television shows or commercials that showed the diversity of abilities. Educating through television commercials and shows assists in removing barriers that once disabled people within our society. Some television shows now have characters that have disabilities and have episodes portraying some of the barriers that are in place which makes being disabled and independent a challenge. At the end of these shows there are solutions that are made to help the character become independent and accepted.
As a society we need to follow the examples from of these televisions shows. We need to find a solution to disabling barriers and follow through within it in a timely fashion. Unfortunately some of the solutions that are needed to assist those with disabilities within our society can be expensive, which can be a barrier in itself for communities and business owners.
What are examples of the lack of facilities for those with special needs in public?
Some examples of disabling features within our society can be linked to the lack of technology. Many buildings, and store fronts do not have accessible technology that allows customers to be able to access the building independently. Push plate activation switches are a common piece of technology that most stores and buildings have in place for the disabled. However, how many of these switches are in proper working order and are being properly maintained? I attempted to answer this question in my Undergraduate thesis a few years back, titled, All Talk and No Action: An Ethnographic Study of the Social Organization of Door Plates in a Suburban Mall and found that even though some technology is available and put in place, many business place the repair and maintenance on another party and take no responsibility for its repair.
In other situations where there were no switch plates in place, business felt that they did not have comply with the structure change because they couldn’t afford it or felt that they did not need it. I feel that the government and municipalities need to come together to ensure that business owners make the appropriate changes to their facility to make it accommodating for all customers. For those businesses that cannot afford the changes, there should be money granted to assist them in doing so. This way we as a society are removing the structural barriers for those with disabilities and also the social barriers in which it shows the acceptance of those that are different.
Many of these plans may sound idealistic. However, it is a foundation for us to continue our progressive change in truly offering equal opportunity to everyone. We all have talents that deserve to be nurtured. Not one of us fits into the perfect cookie cutter shape. To think of it, who would want to anyway?
*Special thanks to Karen Del Ben for the interview*