My first experiences with individuals with disabilities were the same as many persons. They took place in grade school. Once a week or so a disabled student would be brought in. Many of the students would try to get to know the person. Others would stay on the far side of the classroom. My thoughts on these individuals with disabilities were always confused. I understood that they could be taken care of while at the school, but what about at home? What about after school ended? Being the curious sort of person that I, was I asked the teachers, but was never given any more of an answer than, “I am not really sure. It is very difficult for the parents.” Now of course it was difficult for the parents, but surely once the disabled students had progressed enough to venture out into the real world, was life tough for them?
Soon enough, I had advanced through grade school and entered into high school where students in advanced classes such as myself, had almost no contact with people with disabilities. This seemed like a problem to me because after all, according to the teachers, we were the students who would one day be doing the hiring. Then, I went to college at a fancy private school where I saw no one with a disability. By the time I graduated, I admit I had a bit of a bias. This continued until over a year after my graduation. Then, I began to have my own mental health issues. I saw how just a short time with disease could greatly affect my life. My attitudes began to change. Then it happened; I was walking to the nearby market, when I saw a disabled person on a mobility scooter. For some reason, perhaps my new Catholic faith, I asked him how he was doing, and if he needed any help. When I left the market, he was still around petting a nearby dog. For some reason, (probably just my own need to clear my conscience), I went up to him again and shook his hand. Then I asked him what his name was and told him mine. It is difficult to explain, but a positive change came over me.
I realized in that moment, that in that person in the chair was a person with thoughts and emotions similar to mine. I do not know what job he could have had, but I told myself that there had to be something he could do. More importantly, he and other individuals with disabilities should not be discriminated against in hiring. That much I knew for certain. The way I found all this out was by shaking a hand and exchanging names, one of the most basic forms of human engagement. Maybe if more people would undertake such a simple action, discrimination against disabled people in hiring would not be so widespread.