By Gary Karp
People with disabilities (PWD) are more able than ever, yet unemployment rates for PWDs are still astronomically high. They have barely improved, in fact, since passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990!
What’s the problem here?
Well the problem is that we are big-hearted, well-meaning, compassionate beings. We’re wired for generosity. Compassion and sympathy are good things, of course. In their place. But when it comes to viewing people with disabilities, who they are, and what they truly, objectively have to offer, the compassionate lens is blinding, not enlightening.
Compassion for a person with a disability is a totally appropriate FIRST response.
When someone first hears that I broke my back when I was 18, of course they have a visceral, sympathetic reaction. But we need to move on from our natural, sympathetic first response to finding out who the whole person is, what they are capable of, what they dream about.
Ask anyone with a disability who has adapted (more the rule than the exception) or who has had a disability since birth (they’ve always seen themselves as whole) and you’ll learn that they don’t need sympathy and don’t want to be seen only through the lens of their disability. They’ll tell you that people who are stuck seeing them in terms of loss and suffering are missing who they are as people, sometimes depriving them of their potential.
The “Stuck in Sympathy” problem leads to public policy that promotes research to the exclusion of independence (both are important), where funding falls short of giving people what they need to excel (a serious lack of wise investment), and to hiring managers who are hard pressed to imagine that someone so “compromised” is capable of performing at a high level on the job.
However well-meaning, our compassionate response to disability needs to be understood as just a first reaction. Look further and you’ll find whole people and the immense potential they have in this age of Modern Disability.
Note: Gary Karp was featured on the “Getting Past What Holds You Back” conference call series on November 3, 2011 at 11AM. You can find out more about this motivational series and Gary’s appearance by going to this link.