By Melinda Lepley
In my work with individuals who have disabilities, I often find that they want to get involved, meet new people and try new things but are apprehensive about it. Although there is a desire to explore the community and new opportunities, they worry about meeting new people or how others may view them because of their disabilities, which hinders their ability to get out there and experience life.
What obstacles do people with disabilities face when interacting with the outside world? Surprisingly, society’s attitudes can be bigger obstacles for people with disabilities than the disabilities themselves. There are many things that we do day to day without any thought, but people with disabilities may see these as barriers that have to be overcome before they can move on with the rest of their day – for example, arranging for transportation or calling ahead of time to see if a building is accessible.
Sometimes a person’s disability can become an obstacle in his/her own mind. Maybe there is the fear of being injured or worry that others will make fun of him/her. Imagine entering a room and hearing a small child asking a parent, “What’s wrong with that person?” Other people may pity someone with a disability, or even put that person on a pedestal because of the disability. Often it is the environment that is the main barrier for individuals with disabilities, and not their limitations.
The way we see ourselves determines how others see us. People can develop a negative self-image from negative interactions with others. But people should be seen for who they are, not for their disabilities. All of us have fears that we have to face and conquer. Instead of sitting on the sidelines watching the world go by, we often find that getting involved, becoming part of a social network and meeting interesting people reduces isolation and brings greater awareness of the world around us.
If you have a disability, or are close to someone who does, here are some positive suggestions for building confidence:
- Find your comfort zone. Do what feels good to you.
- Start small. Give yourself an escape if you find the situation becoming difficult.
- Try something new with a friend. This can help you to get used to something unfamiliar.
- Do something with a group. Because a group has a leader, you may not feel pressure to initiate first contact with someone else; the leader will do it for you!
- Look around you. Check out bulletin boards, libraries, the internet and your local community center for upcoming events or trips. Often, this will be the first time for others, too, so you won’t be the only one.
- Use teachable moments. Look for chances to educate others about what people with disabilities CAN do. You can be an example to others. This can open-up a host of opportunities for new friends and experiences.
There may be obstacles to surmount, but that shouldn’t discourage you. Getting there can be part of the fun! Don’t worry about what others may think because they are probably having the same worries and just want to meet new people and have a good time, like you. You may even find yourself offering this advice to someone who is reluctant to try new things. By getting out and getting involved, most folks find that they discover something new about themselves, gain more confidence and remind themselves how important it is to stop along the way to smell the roses.
Melinda Lepley is Support Services Coordinator at Jewish Community Services.
Jewish Community Services (JCS) provides programs and services for people of all ages and backgrounds, helping them achieve their goals, enhance their wellbeing, and maximize their independence. To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or call 410-466-9200.