disability-empowermentI’ve heard that many people do lots of cleaning in the spring.  I, on the other hand, only clean my office when I can’t stand the clutter anymore.  Such was the case a few weeks ago.  As I was reorganizing some things on my shelves, I found a pile of old business cards.

It was interesting.  They listed my name and my education.  Everything was spelled correctly.  Pretty standard stuff.  It was the job title that made me pause.  Disability Awareness Specialist.

That would have been a perfectly fine description of what I do a few years ago.  These days not so much.  Today I would call myself a Disability Empowerment Specialist.

What is the difference between disability awareness and disability empowerment?

To me, disability awareness is just that.  Being aware that there are people with disabilities in society and some use certain accommodations.  Accessible parking and bigger bathrooms for wheelchair users. Some people who are deaf use sign language to communicate or maybe they utilize the services of a sign language interpreter.  Some people who are blind use a white cane to navigate their surroundings.  Awareness is in no way a bad thing.

Disability empowerment, on the other hand, goes a step further.  When someone is practicing disability empowerment, they might encounter a person who is deaf using an interpreter to communicate and ask how to say “hello” in sign language so they can begin to communicate with the person who is deaf on their own.

Someone who is practicing disability empowerment might also see someone who is blind and using a white cane and ask if they need any assistance.  If the answer is affirmative, and what is needed is communicated, then maybe offer to describe the room.  Maybe they would even offer their arm after a person who is blind asked for help getting where they needed to go.

We have come a long way in society when it comes to people with disabilities.  It is now pretty commonplace for a ramp to be at an entrance to a building and to have larger doorways and hallways throughout.  As a wheelchair user, I appreciate that.  And I always will.  Because I remember the time when the world was quite different.

These days, when I talk about inclusion, I am mostly talking about an attitude.  Does society truly want to include people with disabilities and treat us as equals?  If so, then most of society would do well to practice disability empowerment as often as possible.

My hope is that most people won’t settle for just being aware when it comes to how they interact with people with disabilities.  Instead, I want people to practice disability empowerment.

It looks like I may have to splurge on some new business cards.