Harry S. Truman had been president for less than six months when Congressional Resolution 176, proclaiming the first week in October "National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week," was passed. It was 1945 and, with the wave of returning World War II veterans whose most enduring war memento was the acquisition of a disability, programs were emerging around the country to help them maintain independence. One critical element in keeping or regaining independence is having a job.
By 1962 terminology had evolved, replacing "handicap" with "disability" and dropping "physically" so that all disabilities were recognized, and by 1988 the week had grown into a month. Sponsored by the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, the designated period is now National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and the intent is still pretty much the same — to increase understanding and awareness of people with disabilities and to recognize that they make valuable and reliable employees.
Still, in 2006, over 60 years after that first week was set aside by Congress, there are far more people with disabilities who don't have jobs than those who do. Maybe the awareness piece of the equation needs a little more work.
I've written a little quiz to help you check out your own disability awareness. Take a few minutes to see what you know. If you have ideas for additional questions, I'd love to hear them.
True or false?
1. Most deaf people can read lips fluently.
2. Most people with asthma are allergic to some environmental or other substance.
3. Sign language has a structure and grammar different from spoken English.
4. 99 percent of all legally deaf people actually have some hearing.
5. 99 percent of all legally blind people actually have some residual sight.
6. Cerebral palsy creates difficulties with walking, speaking and other functions but frequently has no negative effect on the intellect.
7. Only 5 to 10 percent of all legally blind Americans read braille.
8. Braille is a precisely formatted code, closely adhering to the principles of printed text.
9. When a person loses sight or hearing, a natural law of compensation frequently enhances remaining sensory capabilities.
10. Mental retardation is a condition that nearly always exists from birth.
11. Most adults with mental retardation are capable of living in their own communities and leading productive lives.
12. Learning-disabled children typically have mental retardation as well.
13. Ludwig von Beethoven, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein and Edgar Degas were all people with disabilities.
14. People who are blind have successfully participated in the following sports: cross-country skiing, mountain climbing, marathons, skydiving, water skiing, sailing and dressage.
15. People who use wheelchairs have successfully participated and/or competed in the following sports: basketball, marathons, bowling, aviation, scuba diving, tennis and softball.
16. Mental illness and mental retardation are separate and different disabling conditions.
17. Michael J. Fox, Tom Cruise, Temple Grandin, Marlee Matlin and Andrea Bocelli are all contemporary celebrities who have disabilities.
18. Sexuality is as important to men and women with disabilities as it is to other adults.
19. People with disabilities are generally more cheerful than other people.
20. Even the most sociable people with disabilities can feel isolated in a crowd — blind people because they cannot see who else is present and people in wheelchairs because the chair can be a physical barrier.
If you answered all but numbers 1, 9, 12, and 19 with a no-brainer "true," then you have a perfect score and should either be hiring some competent people with disabilities or using your knowledge to persuade someone else to. If you missed more than five of the questions altogether, you probably need to read this column more often.
Numbers 1, 9, 12, and 19 represent the kinds of myths that are frequently held as beliefs by other intelligent people. To set the record straight:
(1) While many people learn to read lips extremely well, it's a skill that takes serious practice, is definitely not foolproof and by no means is the communication method of choice for most. Sign language, signed English, lip-reading, handwriting, text messaging and various combinations of the above are all ways in which deaf people communicate.
(9) If some blind people seem to hear better or deaf people to see better, it is from practice and hard work, not a "law of compensation."
(12) Many people with learning disabilities are high academic achievers.
(19) More cheerful? Decidedly not. People with disabilities have good and bad days, celebrate, mourn, get married and divorced, experience road rage, weep in sappy films — in short, experience the same range of emotional experiences that they might without the disability.
contact Deborah Kendrick: [email protected]