What Joey Papa Doesn't Get About Relating to People With Disabilities


There is a video online titled, “The Gift of Special Needs – How Do I Connect With People With Special Needs?”

Joey Papa starts out the video with the statement, “When I can see myself in another individual, I am immediately able to break down those walls, and am able to connect with them on a more human level.” Great, everyone should try and connect with people on a human level — because all people are, in fact, human.

The video takes a much darker turn when he goes on to explain how he imagines a person with “special needs” feels. He attempts to take you on a journey asking you to imagine the most shameful, embarrassing thing about who you are. Then imagine walking into a public place where there is a video playing that shows those things about you to everyone in the room. Imagine everyone turns to look at you; how would that make you feel? The examples he used were “humiliated,” “self-conscious,” and my personal favorite, “like you’d want to crawl under a rock and die.” That is how he imagines many people with a physical disability or a child with a physical disability must feel.

Let me start by saying I have a physical disability. I can’t hide it; it is there for the whole world to see. I don’t assume my disability is the elephant in the room when I walk or roll into a public place. I don’t sit in my home dreading the times I have to go out in public. At most I am hoping for a close enough parking spot, and that is about all the attention I give my disability while out in public.

I have been part of the disability community for 40 years, and in my experience we are a proud group. I have never met a single person with any kind of disability who feels like they are wearing their “shame,” for lack of a better word, on the outside. We know there is nothing to be ashamed of. We know we are strong, funny, smart, interesting, individuals and those who are in our lives know that too.

The truth is if you want to relate to a person with a disability, it isn’t hard. There is no trick to it. It is as simple as getting to know them as you would anyone else. You would talk about the same things; we have so much going on outside our disabilities. We have friends, families, jobs, and interests. Try talking about some of these things and you have done everything you need to do to break the ice.

It is the same for children with disabilities. They just want to do what other children want to do. They want to play, and have sleepovers, and go to birthday parties. If you can do these simple things, and teach your children to do these simple things, you have successfully connected with a person with a disability.

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