This is my first blog post and I think I have at least seven different documents in draft form that I've been working on, trying to figure out which topic I'd like to focus on. Should I talk about the role of an intervenor, a narrator of life, so to speak? Providing descriptions of visual settings and interpreting conversations like a narrator of a book. Should I talk about the needs of people who are deafblind? This would be better coming from the people themselves. I am sighted and hearing, but I could talk about my experiences working with people who are deafblind. Observing people's loss of freedom, the increasing dependence on others, the decrease in socialization, the frustrations of adapting to changes in vison and/or hearing, etc. Also, the great capacity of humans that we can to change and adapt to what life throws at us; people who are deafblind who have gone to University, had a family, learned a whole new way to communicate, competed in triathlons, went skydiving, participated in advocacy groups, etc.
As I worked on these ideas, a common theme kept reoccurring; stereotypes. There are stereotypes about people who are blind, people who are deaf, people who are deafblind, people who are hearing, and people who are sighted. When we stereotype and look at people as a social group instead of as individuals we make erroneous generalizations.
One of the most common types of stereotypes is that a person's physical abilities somehow relates to their level of intelligence. I'll never forget going out to lunch with my aunt when I was about 12 years old. My aunt is in a wheelchair as she was paralyzed after a motorcycle accident. She is a psychologist and one of my role models. My aunt and I went out to lunch and at the end of the meal, the waitress came over and handed me the bill. I was confused at first, and then I realized that she was assuming my aunt had some kind of intellectual disability because she is in a wheelchair and that I, a 12-year-old, would be paying or assisting my aunt with paying. I was so embarrassed; my aunt simply reached over and took the bill. We never talked about what happened, but I'll never forget that experience. It made we wonder how many times in a day she was faced with this type of occurrence.
So often when I tell people that I work with people who are deafblind, I hear the words "Oh my God, those poor people. What could you possibly do if you were deaf and blind! I don't think I could live that way". People innocently think the worst; complete silence, complete darkness. Part of my role is to be an advocate. After having the privilege of working with people over the years from very intimate assignments (in the delivery room of a hospital) to more routine everyday things (grocery shopping, exercising) I have listened and witnessed people's struggles and accomplishments. This has allowed me to develop empathy and eliminated any stereotypes I may have had when I was new in this field.
Awareness is the key to overcoming stereotypes. How do we promote this awareness in the community? By continuing to be an advocate, by showing respect for others, by really listening to the needs of others and wanting to understand. I believe that we are all connected and that the actions of each person have a rippling effect; that our actions are not done in isolation. Each and every one of us can help alleviate stereotypes, one person at a time, and one story at a time.