Director of FEMA’s Office of Disability Integration and Coordination Linda Mastandrea shares some common myths and facts about disabilities and how we talk about them.
In 1992, the United Nations established the International Day of People with Disabilities as a day to join together to support people with disabilities in our communities. Every Dec. 3, we have an opportunity to focus on the importance of creating a future where people with disabilities experience equal opportunity. This means a future where they can go about their daily lives with adequate accessibility in their communities, have the ability to join the workforce or reach their goals without barriers.
According to the World Health Organization/World Bank World Report on Disability, 15% of the world’s population, or more than one billion people, are living with some form of disability. People are often unsure how to interact with someone living with a disability because they do not have accurate or sufficient information. This annual day of observance is a chance to adopt big and small ways that can improve the lives of people with disabilities.
This year’s theme, Not all Disabilities are Visible, raises awareness of disabilities that are not immediately apparent.
Here are some common myths and facts about disabilities and how we talk about them.
Myth: You can physically ascertain that someone is living with disability.
Fact: There are many examples of invisible disabilities that can affect someone physically, cognitively, emotionally and psychologically. This includes diagnosed mental illness, chronic pain or fatigue, sight or hearing impairments, diabetes, traumatic brain injuries, neurological disorders, learning differences and cognitive dysfunctions, among others.
Myth: You should never talk about disability.
Fact: While the Americans with Disabilities Act protects people with disabilities against discrimination, encouraging a culture of open communication can remove stigma, discourage stereotyping and reduce misinformation about disability.
Myth: The terms “individuals with disability” and “individuals with access and functional needs” mean the same thing.
Fact: These terms are not synonymous and should not be used interchangeably. The population of people with access and functional needs includes individuals with a disability, but the definition of access and functional needs also includes other categories such as older adults and individuals with limited English proficiency, limited access to transportation, and/or limited access to financial resources to prepare for, respond to, and recover from the emergency.
FEMA is committed to helping people with disabilities before, during and after disasters in ways that maximize the inclusion of, and accessibility for, people with disabilities. For more information, visit our Office of Disability Integration and Coordination page.