Tag: Identity

Looking at the whole person?


black and white masks

Have you ever stopped to think how many roles you played today? I bet you would be surprised at how many. For me, today I was a human service worker, shopper, friend, student, cook, and pet owner to name a few. The roles we play in life vary in how we and others value them. Sometimes I am Assistant Vice President, which I deem a valuable role. Others may not feel the same way. They may prefer to pick up and take off whenever they please. At times, I play the role of Democrat. Those who do not value politics or my views may not see this as an important role.

A Human Service View

I spend a lot of time at work reading or hearing about people with different abilities. Everyone has his or her own goals and plans for the future. They also have their own stories. I may never meet them in person, but I learn about them through their stories. After taking a class *, it occurred to me that their stories are only a piece of what makes them “them”. What I realized is the way a person is described places him/her into roles. These roles are not always valued in our society.
When I started working in human services, there was a focus on Person Centered Planning (PCP). The idea of PCP is care centered around the person. At the time, it seemed to make sense. Now I fear we may have missed the point. Much of the focus for people I work with is learning new skills. We work on life skills to help the person fit better in their world. While working on life skills we cannot forget the importance of social skills. There is value and balance when both of these skills improve.

How can we change?

So how do we change our ways? How do we help someone gain valued social roles? It starts with understanding what society values. Today’s society places a high value on money, health, youth, and freedom. These are words I do not typically see in the stories I read about people. In my job, I sometimes find the words used to describe people set limits on the person. We focus on what people cannot do instead of what they can do.
A shift to focusing on abilities and socially valued roles is essential to overall quality of life for anyone. Every person is valuable, but not all roles are valued. Let’s celebrate people for who they are instead of describing people in terms of what they are not. For more information on Social Role Valorization, community inclusion, and similar topics, check out the websites listed below.

* Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger’s theory of Social Role Valorization

Cultural Understanding in Health Care

Multiracial hands making a circle together around the world glob

What is Culture?

Culture refers to a group of people with shared beliefs, knowledge, ideas, experiences, and maybe language. Culture is not limited to racial and ethnic groups. There can be professional, political, religious, organizational, and social groups. Culture is complex with many layers. It brings together every part of one’s life.

Why is Cultural Understanding Important in Health Care?

Culturally-informed care should be the standard and not the exception in the health-care field. For many minority groups (Asians, African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos), language and cultural differences are difficulties in the health care system. Cultural understanding is important in helping families gain access to quality health care services. It is important then that health care providers deliver care that knows, respects, and welcomes these cultural differences (National Institute of Health, 2014).

How is Cultural Understanding Related to Quality Speech-Language Services?

People from different cultures may speak different languages and dialects. As a speech-language pathologist (SLP), I am interested in working with children who grow up in a bilingual home. Language is more than the words that come out of one’s mouth. It includes facial cues; social aspects; word meaning; hand and body movements; tones and rhythm. These are all highly influenced by one’s culture. For example, Asian children are told that it is rude to make eye-contact with an adult. But Americans think eye contact is a sign of attention and respect (Cheng, 1991). It is important that SLPs understand their client’s background in order to make correct diagnoses, and to provide appropriate treatment.

How Can We Be Culturally and Linguistically Sensitive?

  1. Learn more about the local community that you serve. Cultural understanding does not mean that you need to be a fluent speaker of the language. Research the local community’s religions, beliefs, lifestyles, languages, traditions, etc. This knowledge will help you provide culturally informed care.
  2. Use simple terms. Even if the person appears to speak and understand English well, it is always best to use simple language. Unclear or high-level words are hard to translate and the meaning can get lost. For example, instead of “his scores are low compared to the norm” you can simply and clearly say “his scores are low compared to other kids his age”.
  3. Work with interpreters to translate your websites, pamphlets and flyers. You will have great visual aids to use and refer to when counseling individuals. Most importantly, your patients and clients will now have easy access to these educational resources!

Helpful Resources

Cultural Appropriation and Disability: The Problem with Using Wheelchairs as Decoration and Portraying Individuals with Disabilities as Inspirational

Caricature of Lady Gaga in Wheelchair by Lauren Lange
Caricature of Lady Gaga in Wheelchair by Lauren Lange

The cultural appropriation of disability is a major obstacle in the struggle to achieve a just society in which individuals with disabilities are treated with dignity and receive access to supports and services to live richer, self-determined lives.

This article addresses two forms of cultural appropriation. The first form is the use of images of individuals with disabilities by able-bodied persons to promote a charity campaign/advocacy issue or to describe a current event. The second form of cultural appropriation relates to the use of images or objects associated with disability for performance art that is unrelated to disability advocacy.

When non-profit organizations or news corporations use images of individuals with disabilities that are meant to be inspirational or cause an emotional reaction, the population of individuals with disabilities as a whole are held back. This is because the images contribute to the reputation that individuals with disabilities are helpless, pitiable, and/or inspiring. The problem with being seen as inspiring is that often it stands in the way being seen as an equal. A recent example is a news story about two North Carolina State students on the football team who sat next to a student with a disability at lunch (news story). This story was widely circulated and was even posted by AUCD on Facebook. The troubling implications of this story were passionately described by Karin Hitselberger in her blog post, “Being My Friend Does Not Make You a Hero.” Hitselberger calls for change by writing: “It’s time for us to stop being inspired and surprised when we see disabled and nondisabled people engage in everyday interactions with one another. It’s time for us to stop praising able-bodied people for associating with or being friends with disabled people” (claiming crip blog). It was later revealed that the students eating lunch together were already friends and had no idea their photo was taken (real story of photo).

Those who are in a position to use these images should ensure accuracy and carefully consider the unintentional messages this content could be sending. Seeking advice from individuals with disabilities is recommended.

It is equally troubling when images or objects associated with disability are used to captivate or shock audiences in performances that are unrelated to disability advocacy. Musicians Lady Gaga and Rick Ross have used this form of cultural appropriation in live performances and music videos. Of the several live and on-screen performances in which Lady Gaga used a wheelchair, her performance as a wheelchair bound mermaid has received the most attention. Following the performance, Gaga was attacked by a group of people who threw eggs at the young starlet. It remains unclear if the attackers’ outrage was related to her inappropriate wheelchair use. Later, when Gaga and musician Bette Midler engaged in an argument about whether or not Gaga stole Midler’s act, neither of them seemed to be aware of the fact that the act was offensive.

In the case of Rick Ross, the rapper performed in Lil Wayne’s music video, “John,” while seated in a wheelchair with adornments to simulate movement called spinners. The only purpose of the wheelchair was shock value.

It was disturbing to see these musicians make light of the vital use of wheelchairs by using them for decoration. Kristin Guin, founder of Queerability, agrees. Guin, who identifies as autistic and bisexual, recommends bringing the inappropriate wheelchair use to the attention of the performers. “We would hope that the celebrity apologizes and agrees to remove the content,” states Guin.

We in the community of disability activists should not be paralyzed by anger over these instances of cultural appropriation. Instead, we should create opportunities to educate those who have yet to understand how to perceive and treat individuals with disabilities as equals. I call on anyone who encounters this type of behavior to make their opinions known.