Tuesday, April 20, 2010


They're everywhere. Everyone makes them. I suppose that's human nature (to make stereotypes, or assumptions, about people for whatever reason).

In the disability world, we try to knock down those stereotypes. Over the past week, people have assumed I don't work until it somehow comes up in conversation and then there's this sense of amazement.

Then we dive into stereotypes surrounding MS. Amazing assumptions are there - that because I have MS, I also have every symptom of MS. So I explain that no, MS affects my legs mostly. It affects everyone differently. And it's the same for whatever disease is out there - everyone is different, yet there are so many stereotypes.

I remember attending an MS workshop a long time ago, in Duluth MN, way back when I was still running. One of the sessions was on fatigue and a friend of mine, Tom, was the facilitator. One of the people with MS at the session started talking about being sick. I must have had my face scrunched tightly in a ball. Tom paused and said, "Beth, the word sick really seems to bother you." "Yes, I said. I don't perceive myself as sick. I perceive myself as having MS, and I have good times and times when I struggle. But when I think sick, I think of a cold, or something like that." So then, I do think there's a stereotype of people with MS being sick (I've heard it from others). But if I played into that, my life would be different. If I'm not sick, I can challenge myself more and carry on with life better. Works for me - maybe not for others. But the sick stereotype - I'm not a fan.

I was telling someone about the MS and employment stereotype yesterday. And she said, "it's like me and that Easter comment." "You're totally right," I said. She had been leaving a meeting and wished someone a happy Easter. The person gave her a strange look and said, "you celebrate Easter?!!" Her skin is darker - I forget her exact origin. But she goes to a Lutheran church like me. That was a jaw-dropping stereotype for me.

So I'm reminded - the stereotypes are not just there for disabilities. They are all over the place. And hopefully we can stop them, one at a time, against human nature, so we're more inclusive without thinking about it.

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