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Concrete Experience:

 

            Two years ago, I worked at a summer camp for
deaf teenagers. Many of these teenagers developed strategies to learn and
navigate the world without the use of sound and became very successful at doing
so. Some became lip readers, learned sign language and were even able to speak
with slight difficulty. Some parents of these children tried to minimize the
limitations placed on them due to their disabilities. They attended regular
public schools and even helped kids with similar disabilities. One child
mentioned to me how his doctor treated him only for his disability and not as a
person. This was very discouraging for him as he was beginning to believe that
he was only identified as deaf and not as a young man. He mentioned how he
suffered bullying for being deaf and he was known as the “deaf kid.” The
friends he did have understood his condition and attempted to help him by
writing out the plot of a movie or telling him when announcements were being
said through the intercom system and over time he became completely reliant on
them for help.

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Reflective Observation:

            After hearing the
stories of this teenager, I reflected on all the times I attempted to help
someone with an impairment without knowing their capabilities. Just because
they were impaired, I assumed they needed help even though they may have been
entirely competent. This in turn may have evolved into involuntary prejudice in
that I judged them on their physical appearance rather than by their character
and personality, assuming that their impairment was a clear indication of their
physical abilities. Moreover, I wonder if my negative attitudes have contributed
to a person with an impairment’s own understanding of themselves as incapable,
leading them to develop a self-fulfilling prophecy. These negative attitudes
along with the physical barriers put up by society coincides with the social
model of disability (MacFarlane, 2017). The lack of
visual aids for deaf individuals creates a barrier for them to succeed
independently, as in the case with the teenager from my story. Similarly, me
going out of my way to help someone with an impairment might further create
barriers. What I think was helping them accomplish various tasks was actually
creating a belief that they were more limited than they actually were. This
belief over time may have developed into a realization that they are incapable
of being independent, thus enabling their disability. This created a perception
that the disabled will never be fully equal to the non-disabled, putting them
at a disadvantage in society (Jones, 2002). Likewise, believing those who are
disabled labels them in an outgroup, thus perpetuating the stigma as is the
case with the teenager from my story (Jones, 2002). He was labelled as the
“deaf kid” by his peers and only recognized as a disability by his doctor.

Taking a Different Path (Active
Experimentation):

            As a future doctor, it is important that I analyze a person
holistically and not solely by their disability/disease. I cannot ignore the
limitations that some individuals will face by their disabilities; however, when I meet someone who I think is
impaired, I will not automatically assume that they require help, but rather
allow them to accomplish an objective before asking if they need support. This
in turn will demonstrate that they are more than their disability and that they
are as equally independent. There is always room for growth and I believe that
changing my behaviour will allow others to learn and see what the harmful
effects of stigma and social labelling pose on those with disabilities. 

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