Physical indifference

Education is the next step to ending discrimination

From the era of the Spartans judging the fate of their newborns, to swiping right or left on a dating app, humans have always judged one another based on appearance.

It’s in our nature. But that doesn’t make it acceptable behaviour.

Everyone has likely heard the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover.” The reason everyone has heard this rather short and cheesy saying is because it holds true.

That book cover may have a boring font and a poorly drawn picture, but that doesn’t discredit the worth of the words written on the pages. And it’s a similar story with people.

We all know that not everyone looks the same, which, obviously, is a good thing, but a person’s looks hold no value to who the person is.

Take me, for example. I’m a rather normal fellow, albeit a bit of a geek. I like books, movies and beer just as much as the next chap, but that doesn’t stop people from staring from across the train. Why? It’s simply because I have one arm.

Though it never stops at glances.

People in similar situations were regularly picked last for grade school sports, we’ve had people point and laugh, we’ve had people avoid us entirely and, unfortunately, many of us have been discriminated against in our places of work out of fear that we cannot complete even the most rudimentary of tasks.

All of the aforementioned have happened to me personally. All of them have happened more than once.

The absence of my left hand doesn’t mean I can’t throw a ball, make a coffee or hold a conversation. A person’s appearance does not hold any relevance to their abilities.

Everyone is aware that these are poor ways to treat people, yet we all do it.

That’s not to say that all discrimination is intentional. Some scenarios are simply echoes from the past, a time when people gave less thought to the needs of others.

Take SAIT, for example. There are certainly a lot of stairs on campus, which, we all know, are difficult to traverse in a wheelchair. Presumably this wasn’t intentional, and there are changes made periodically to increase wheelchair access on campus, but there is always room for improvement.

Continuing with amputees as the proverbial poster-people for discrimination, there are those who take a stand to combat and deter the long-lasting effects such mental and physical attacks can have on a child.

Amputee war veterans of the First World War founded the War Amps program in 1918, and to this day, The War Amps are committed to helping all amputees.

The War Amps CHAMP program is aimed specifically at children and is intended to help amputee kids learn how to do things in their own way, and ultimately accept who they are as people.

Given my own experiences with the CHAMP program as a former member and a “champ,” I would say it is highly effective.

“During the CHAMP seminars, we have a session called ‘What Bugs Me.’ During this session, all champs can talk about those who may bully them, stare at them or ask them questions. They get advice from those who have gone through it and are able to talk about a solution to help educate people, or to help deal with that obstacle,” said Jamie Lunn, public awareness officer with The War Amps.

According to Lunn, “Often when [people] stare or ask questions it is because they are curious.”

Asking people questions about what makes them different is acceptable in some situations, but not always.

For example, you likely aren’t going to ask someone, who you have never met before, what happened to his or her arm. It can stir up emotions that may be better off left alone.

And, ultimately, that is where the issue lies. In the lack of education people have about disabilities.

When I was a young lad with a spring in my step and joy in my heart, ready to start kindergarten, the teacher noticed my lack of phalanges and insisted I be enrolled in the school’s special needs program.

This, of course, was preposterous, as a missing hand does not affect cognitive ability.

Had I not had my strong-willed parents and The War Amps fighting for me, I would have been a special needs student and I likely wouldn’t be sharing this story with you now.

And that’s the only way change will occur, by having people share their stories and having organizations in place to educate the masses.

Without them, I too would have been cast into the proverbial Spartan’s pit.

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