Rolling Without Limits

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Disabled Enough? Managing Perceptions
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Disabled Enough? Managing Perceptions

If you are an individual with a disability, do you ever find yourself feeling like managing other people’s perceptions about you and your abilities is a full time job? Figuring out how to affirm or combat perceptions really is a lot of work. Some of us may feel like if we are not living up to expectations of what other’s feel we as people with disabilities should be or could be doing we are falling short or if we are doing more than expected we are judged or questioned about the nature of our disabilities and how much we really can achieve.

To give you a few examples of these perceptions from the perspective of both my and my husband’s disability experiences:

My husband most often experiences projections of judgment about his disability while out grocery shopping. It took us many trips to the store to find a way to gather all of our items, maneuver the cart through the store and load the bags into our vehicle before we got just the right rhythm down. Today when we go grocery shopping, my husband pushes himself in his wheelchair with his hands while propping his feet onto the cart in front of him as we go through the store. While some people offer their assistance, this situation most often garners unwanted stares from strangers wondering how he is able to use his legs to push the cart around if he is in a wheelchair. Though this may be a normal thought, it borders along the line of judgment from others that perhaps he should not be using a wheelchair if he has use of his legs.

Another example both of us often witness is the perceptions of others about the extent of our abilities when transferring in and out of our vehicles. I get out of my wheelchair and stand up to run the lift from the back end of our Honda Element to load my chair in and out while my husband transfers from his wheelchair to the seat of the car and then folds up his chair and manually lifts it into the back seat. Often the looks of passersby allow us to read their thoughts about the extent of our disabilities and need to use a wheelchair if we are able to maneuver ourselves physically, especially when they see us stand up on our own two feet from a seated position in a wheelchair.

Even though people’s perceptions may be wrong or based on stereotypes, misinformation or lack of education and experience, unfortunately, the responsibility of perception management often falls into the lap of those of us with disabilities.

“Perception Management” was a term coined by the US military. Wikipedia explains that the US Department of Defense defines perception management as “actions to convey and/or deny selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning…”

The Americans with Disabilities Act even prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals applying for jobs or employees in current roles on the basis of disability or perceived disability.

What are some things you have found useful for helping to manage other’s perceptions about your disability and your abilities? Do you have any tips for managing perceptions during a job interview, meeting new people or running into passersby on the street? Share in the comments!

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