Disability Myths

In my opinion the biggest discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (PwD) is attitudinal. There assumptions may take the form of myths as well as stereotypes. On International Day of PwD’s, I am sharing with you ten myths people encountered regarding disabilities and the truths behind them.

Myth: People with Learning Disability and Attention Deficient Disorder are not very smart.

Fact: Intelligence has nothing to do with Learning Disability and Attention Deficient Disorder. In fact, people with LD and ADD have average to above average intelligence. Studies indicate that as many as 33% of students with LD are gifted. 

Myth: Individuals with autism are genius and they have hidden or exceptional talents.

Fact: The character of Dustin Hoffman in the film “Rain Man” spread more myth than reality.  There may be a minority of individuals with autism who have unusual islets of skills, but savants are an unrealistic portrayal of the majority of individuals on the spectrum. Every child is unique and the extraordinary cognitive skills unique to a child have no direct relation with autism.

Myth: Cerebral Palsy always means Mental Impairment

Fact: Not necessarily. Athetoid/dyskinetic cerebral palsy often at times have the full mental capacity that would be expected at their age. Some people with CP, however, do suffer significant mental impairments. Furthermore, “paralytic disorders” are not cerebral palsy.

Myth: Visually impaired people see nothing.

Fact: The most common myth is that all visually impaired people live in a world of complete darkness. Only 18% are classed as totally blind and the majorities have some residual vision, whether it is light perception, color perception, or form perception.

Myth: All hearing impaired people are mute people use sign language.

Fact:  Hearing loss prevents few people from learning spoken language. Deafness has little effect on vocal chords and only a few are truly mute. The language a deaf person uses depends on his or her environment.  Just like a hearing child growing up with Hindi-speaking people will use Hindi, a deaf person uses the language they have learned from the people in their environment.  This may be ASL, MCE, PSE, speech or lipreading, or a combination of the above.

Myth: Woman with thalassemia cannot have children

Fact:  Thalassemia does increase the chance of thrombosis but even healthy pregnant women are at risk at this stage because of hormonal changes taking place in this phase. Close follow up with interruption of chelating therapy in the first three months are necessary.

Myth: All visually impaired people read Braille

Fact: Only about 5% of people who are blind use Braille. Most use large print, magnification, "talking" devices, and volunteer readers.

Myth: People with disabilities are brave, courageous and inspirational for living with their disability.

Fact: The tag of “special” in reference to a person with a disability does not convey equality. PwD’s are often portrayed as superhuman or courageous as they triumph over adversity. Usually there is very low threshold associated with success of PwD’s which makes it look their accomplishments as super-achievements.

Myth: Dwarfismis characterized by mental retardation and shortened life expectancy. 

FACT: Over 300 causes of dwarfism are known. Although some forms of dwarfism are associated with medical complications, most people have normal intellect and life expectancy, and age normally.

Myth: Persons with Multiple Sclerosis will be in a wheelchair sooner or later.

Only 25 % of people with MS use a wheelchair or stay in bed because they are unable to walk. However, the likelihood of needing a mobility device rises the longer someone has MS. And many people with MS who use wheelchairs are still able to walk on their own. "They use a wheelchair -- or a cane, or scooter -- to help conserve their energy, or to prevent injury if their gait is unsteady."

Disability Myths (Continued…)

Ten other myths which were published for the website Cross the Hurdles on World Disability Day by me:

MYTH: Dyslexia and learning disability is the same thing.

REALITY: Dyslexia is a type and not a synonym of learning disability. It is a specific language based disorder affecting a person’s ability to read, write and verbally expressing themselves. 

MYTH: If a hemophilic person gets a cut, he/she will bleed to death.

REALITY: The truth is that a person with hemophilia will bleed longer (in some cases, much longer) than someone with a normal level of clotting factor. In most cases, hemostasis will be achieved and the bleed will stop, usually through an emergency treatment of factor.

MYTH: Employees with disabilities have a higher absentee rate than employees without disabilities.

REALITY: It has been seen by various studies that employees with disabilities have higher retention rates, high rate of loyalty to a company and usually a positive effect on staff. Unlike the misconception these studies show that on the average, people with disabilities have better attendance rates than their non-disabled counterparts.

MYTH: Wheelchair users are confined to their chairs as they are paralyzed.

REALITY: Some Persons with Disabilities (PwD) can walk, but their strength may be limited so they prefer a wheelchair to enable them to travel longer distances. A common occurrence is at the airport.

MYTH: All deaf people can read lips.

REALITY: It is often thought that deaf people can speechread as efficiently as persons can hear.  However, speechreading (or lipreading) is a skill that some deaf persons are good at; others have difficulty mastering such a talent.  While good speechreading skills can help in communication, only 30 percent of all speech is visible on the lips, and even the best speechreaders cannot speechread everything that is said.

MYTH: People with thalassemia have more appetite than usual

REALITY: Deferiprone (Ferriprox) is an oral drug that chelates iron and is used to treat thalassemia major. Increased appetite may occur only as a side effect for people who are on this drug.  

MYTH: Repetitive or ritualistic behaviors in Autism should be stopped.

REALITY: One of the characteristic features of autism is repetitive and ritualistic behaviors. Though these behaviors -- which can include hand flapping, banging on walls or rocking back and forth -- may seem peculiar, they are the his/her reaction to his/her own problem. They can be calming; they can feel good; and they may help the person communicate with others. Such behaviors may become problematic if they begin intrusive in family life or if they prevent those with autism from functioning separately. Over the time it is seen that a child may learn to outgrow such behaviors as they isolate him in the society.

MYTH: Cerebral Palsy is Treatable

REALITY: The symptoms of cerebral palsy are treatable but the condition itself is not. Brain injuries do not heal, as the tissues in the brain are not capable of regenerating in the same fashion as are the tissues in the rest of the body.

MYTH: Leprosy causes fingers, toes and limbs to fall off.

REALITY: Another myth. Leprosy affects the nerves in the limbs resulting in all sensations in them being lost. This puts these individuals at a higher risk for injuring their limbs, since they do not experience any pain. The neglected parts especially the feet is more susceptible to ulcers which if not cared correctly and in time may need to be amputated.

MYTH: It hardly matters if you say mentally retarded/handicapped/crippled/lame or ‘special’ or ‘differently abled’. These are mere words and convey the same meaning.

REALITY: Language plays a significant role in breaking attitudinal barrier. PWD’s are people first and their disability should come later. Words DO make a difference and Persons with disabilities is more acceptable than disabled persons.

The carry-home-message: Each human being is of inestimable value and nobody is insignificant.