Stacy Ellingen

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Stacy’s Journal:  Bias, We All Have It

By: Stacy Ellingen
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Most children are taught not to discriminate or segregate at a very young age.  Regardless of age, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, economic status, or disability, as a society, we are made to believe that everyone is equal and nobody is the better than anyone else.  In theory, all types of people should be mixed together all the time.  While thanks to laws passed in the 1950s, this notion should be technically true, but it isn’t realistic.  Segregation still happens in today’s world.  People may not realize it, but we all have bias.  When most people hear the word “segregation,” they automatically assume it’s a negative thing.  However, at times, that’s not the case.  It’s human nature for people to associate with others like them.

As I’ve shared in past entries, I was brought up believing I should do everything like everybody else despite having a disability.  Obviously, there were things I wasn’t able to do, but that was life.  Attending therapies isn’t a normal activity for most families, but it was for mine.  My parents did whatever they could so I could participate in normal childhood activities.  My dad adapted hundreds of things so I could use them.  My mom was a Girl Scouts leader so I could participate in activities.  My parents never put me in respite; instead, I had regular baby-sitters.  I never went to special needs camps; I went on vacations across the US (and beyond) with my family.

The only time that I was classes with other kids with significant disabilities was when I was in Early Childhood classes when I was really young.  From Kindergarten on, I was in all regular education classes.  Some years, I had with a modified gym class where there were other students with all types of disabilities  and health conditions, but that was it.  Since my disability is so apparent, I made a very conscious effort to try not to associate with students who had intellectual disabilities—especially in high school.  That sounds really bad of me, but it was so important to me to do all that I could to prove my cognitive abilities to my classmates.

When I got to UW-Whitewater, obviously that all changed because Whitewater is known for serving students with disabilities.  There was no need for anyone to prove their cognitive abilities since we were in college.  It’s true; people with similar circumstances tend to befriend one another.  I made friends with people who had various disabilities, but I also had friends who didn’t have disabilities.  It was when I first really realized that there were other people who had similar abilities.  It was also the first time I got involved in disability advocacy.  Whitewater had a student organization for disability advocacy.  It was the first time I was a part of something that focused on disabilities.  Again, students with and without disabilities belonged, and there wasn’t a need to prove anything to anyone.  It was a cool experience.

It wasn’t until after college that I realized just how seemingly segregated adults with disabilities are.  Everything from finding appropriate cares, to finding an apartment, to finally landing a job, it took lots of time and effort.  There are lots of services available for people with disabilities, but the reality is that most of them are geared towards people with intellectual disabilities.  Yes, most services are customized to the individual, but generally speaking I’ve found that many of the services were developed for those who have intellectual delays.  Those of us with physical disabilities like myself often have to pave our own path and piece together services to meet our situations.  While personally I’m happy I can do this, sometimes it does get frustrating that it seems “people with disabilities“ get thrown into a general category.  In no way am I belittling people who have intellectual disabilities, but, for me, especially since my speech is affected, people assume that I have cognitive delays.  As one would guess, this can be incredibly frustrating.

Services aren’t the only thing like this; many of the disability conferences and trainings are more for those with intellectual disabilities.  This by no means is a negative thing, but, personally speaking, I find it hard to fit in at those events.  A lot of it probably has to do with the fact that while I obviously understand and accept that I have a disability, I normally don’t think of myself as being different; I don’t focus on that.  I’m also not used to being with lots of people who have various disabilities.  Recently, I attended the Self-determination Conference.  I worked the exhibit table for InControl Wisconsin.  I loved meeting and talking to so many people, but, even before we got there, on the way there, I told mom it was segregation.  Again, it doesn’t mean it’s a negative thing.  It’s just a fact that people with all types of disabilities were gathering in one place.  I personally again felt the need to prove my cognitive ability. In my opinion, a lot of the events and activities were meant more for people with intellectual disabilities.  I understand that it’s the majority of people who attend these events, so it has to be catered to that population; sometimes, I just wonder if I should be there.

Thanks to my amazing family and friends, I don’t usually think of myself as having a disability; I know people I love see past my challenges and see me for the person I am.  People with disabilities in general are in a minority; those of us with physical disabilities are even fewer in number.  We just have to continue fighting for what’s right and paving new paths!


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