According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one in four Americans currently live with a disability. This means it is likely that you, someone you know, or someone you will meet has a disability or will develop one later in life. Yet the public is still either uninformed or misinformed about the modern-day obstacles facing persons with disabilities.
With the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other key pieces of legislation, many barriers to access have been removed from public life. However, we must now move to address the social stigma surrounding this community. This problem cannot be solved by simply building a ramp or installing braille. We must instead work together to change hearts and minds in order to build a more inclusive society for all.
This stigma has had real-world consequences for this population. According to a 2016 survey by Total Jobs, one in four persons who are deaf reported they left their job due to discrimination at their places of employment. In addition, the U.S. Department of Labor tells us that of those who were 16 or older, 19% of persons with disabilities were employed compared to 66% of those without a disability. These are not problems of “access,” they are problems of “perception” and perception can only be changed by increasing our capacity for understanding and empathy.
That’s why, to mark our 100th anniversary this spring, Easterseals New Jersey will be holding several pop-up events throughout the state we are calling “Exercises in Empathy.” At these events, people will be walked through short experience-based activities to learn more about disability. Activities include a limited mobility art station, a lip-reading exercise, a schizophrenia and depression experience, as well as a vision-loss/Usher syndrome activity.
Sharing in these experiences allows us to become more aware of not just the challenges having a disability can present, but how people overcome those challenges. This can be a powerful tool in removing the stigma surrounding disability. This shift in thinking is critical as we work together to build a more inclusive New Jersey.
We encourage you to experience our pop-up events. Visit www.easterseals100.org for more information and to learn how you can help create a future where everyone is 100% included and 100% empowered.
President/Chief Executive Officer
Easterseals New Jersey