I was watching the kazakh traditional dance performed by four amazing girls, who impressed me with their outstanding dance techniques. However, I have noticed one detail while they were dancing they looked at one point, and even though they were smiling their eyes showed signs of worrying. I followed their eyes and realized that they were looking at the signs of the instructor, who was counting and showing steps, using sign language. How is it, to dance without music? And how is it, to live with disability? These questions immediately came to my mind…
We live in the world where disability is considered to be abnormal, just because the society does not accept disabled people the way they are, thus causing stigmatization and exclusion. According to the public survey of UNICEF (2013) society tends to associate disability with the limitations of ability, inferiority, unhappiness, usefulness and absence of the future. When people were asked about emotions that they usually feel facing children with disabilities, the answers showed that in most cases children with disability stir to pity and sympathy, on the second place was respectful attitude, on the third place was rejoice for their achievements (UNICEF, 2013). Public opinion is only one side of the coin; another side is feelings of people with disabilities in society, which somehow ignored by the society. How attitudes of society affect the life of disabled? Do people with disabilities need these feelings of regrets and respect? What do they expect from society? The answers for these questions I found reading one story of the girl, who is diagnosed with the Osteogenesis imperfecta that affects only 0.008 percent of world’s population. Her name is Bethany Stevens, she is a student of the University of Florida, disability activist and the President of the Union of Students with Disabilities,
The fragments of life story of Bethany Stevens:
“In additional to physical pain of operations and fractures I have been plagued with feelings of shame and self-contempt as a result of the social stigma of disability. This is an issue I continue to grapple with today as a 24-year-old law student. As a child I did not realize how significant the social reality of being disabled was, as I felt I was a normal child who simply had physical limitations.”
“When I was younger, my mother believed that I might fracture while I playing so she isolated me from my peers. I calculated how much time I have spent alone, healing from various injuries, and came up with the seven years of my life- a figure does not include the years of my schooling.”
“I began attending an elementary school as the only disabled child integrated the able-bodied students. I loved school because it gave me opportunity to engage in human interaction. But there were still times when I felt socially isolated because of my disability, particularly when it came to socializing beyond the confines of the school.”
“I internalized feelings of hatred towards my body, which I now believe were garnered through images of normalized beauty standard perpetuated by the media and social stigma. Nowhere did I find positive images expressing the humanity of disabled people- only those that were depicted as object intended to provoke a pity or sympathy… These intense emotions were exacerbated by the fact that I had to live all my good friends behind and go to the school on the other side of the town, as the school my friends were going to attend was inaccessible to disabled student”
“There is a duality in the need for a cognitive revolution, existing within able-bodied populations. All too often we internalize negative stigmas concerning our disability because we cannot see our beauty. For the most of my life I was only disabled person, I knew and I found it truly difficult to look into the mirror and see an aesthetically different person, and yet still see beauty. We need a sense of internal pride as much as society needs to accept our abilities and assets.”
“The opportunities and development of the pride in my existence came with the pivotal move into my fathers home when I was 16 years old. He recognized my humanity and encouraged it to flourish, teaching me hoe to drive and supporting my securing of a job. He allowed me freedom that my mother would have never condoned and with it I forged the identity that I love. It is wonderful to finally love myself. It is crucial that other parents of children with disabilities allow their children to obtain a sense of independence because it is necessary for self- sufficiency.” (retrieved from UNICEF, 2006, pp. 26-27).
Coming to conclusion, this story shows that people make a mistake feeling pity and sympathy toward disabled, and from the life experience of Bethany we can see that it is better to concentrate on their abilities, disabling the barriers for their socialization and treating them as usual people. Indeed people with disabilities are able to pursue the life fulfilled of achievements and joy provided that society does not limited their opportunities. And these four girls with hearing impairments, dancing despite their difficulties in a big scene in front of dozens of people, is evidence to it.
UNICEF (2013). Analysis of Conditions of Children with Disabilities: for the Further Development of Inclusive Education. Astana: UNICEF.
UNICEF (2006). Excluded and Invisible. USA: New York, UNICEF.