Children with disabilities encounter different challenges in many areas of their lives and many of these challenges involve people’s attitudes. But what do attitudes towards children with disabilities look like? Attitudes are a complex collection of beliefs, feelings, values and dispositions which characterize the way we think or feel about certain people or situations. These are usually a product of life experiences, including the relationships we build with the people around us.
A person’s attitude towards children with disabilities might be influenced by their personal experience of knowing another child with similar disability. And these attitudes often affect the way people behave in particular situations or towards other people. Attitudes change from person to person, group to group and even within groups over time. Children with disabilities are more likely to experience the attitude of others as a major barrier to education, leisure, transport, access to public services, social contact and accessibility outside the home.
Despite the present legislative changes seeking to tackle discrimination towards children with disabilities, negative attitudes continue to persist. This may be due to a general poor level of understanding about these disabilities and how they affect people’s social participation or it may be an indication of the prevalence of negative stereotypes concerning these conditions.
The pervasiveness of negative attitudes among the general public has not gone unnoticed by disabled people. Some experiences that children with disabilities face include; being stared at, being acted to in an aggressive or hostile way, being called names, being ignored and pretended not to be seen, being awkward towards, thinking they can’t make their own decisions, expecting less due to their health condition, not understanding their needs and also being physically attacked.
Children who perceive themselves as being stigmatized may also internalize the negative attitudes that they encounter in a disabling society. This in turn have an impact on the quality of life and wellbeing of such children.
Educating people about children with disabilities by investing in public awareness campaigns as well as making opportunities available for everyday interactions could help tackle the everyday negative attitude that is being encountered. This can be based on the fact that seeing more children with disabilities as everyday character (rather than obviously ‘good’ or obviously ‘bad’ characters) would help to raise awareness of disability among the wider public and reduce stigma and discrimination. These can be improved through the use of TV and on mainstream media.
Positive attitudes could also be shaped through more interaction between children with and without disabilities. Many children have a natural, uninhibited curiosity and may ask questions that some adults consider embarrassing. Scolding curious children may make them think having a disability is ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’. Public attitudes have an impact on various aspects of everyone’s living standards and in children with disabilities in particular, structural changes that improve their standard of living might not be achieved without tackling attitudinal change at the same time. Finally, it is important to note that your attitude may be causing disabilities. Disability is not contagious, but your attitude might be.
– Written by Owolabi Bukola Samuel.
(A Volunteer at CDC).