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Learn How Best to Work with People with Different Types of Disabilities

When people envision who might be a “person with a disability,” they often think of disabilities that are visible. However, disabilities are both visible and nonvisible. Examples of the former include people who have mobility impairments, are blind or have low vision, are deaf or hard-of-hearing, have developmental/intellectual disabilities or have muscular or neurological conditions. Nonvisible disabilities include psychiatric disabilities, asthma, arthritis, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and learning disabilities.

Close collaboration with organizations of and for people with disabilities is critical. With self-determination as a core value, and as people with disabilities themselves become involved in organizations whose leaders are elected from among the disability community, they may tap into priceless networking opportunities. Further, as career counselors and other job placement professionals build strong working partnerships with those serving people with physical, psychiatric, developmental/intellectual, and learning disabilities, new possibilities may arise for building cross-organizational allies to advance mutual goals. Throughout the country in communities of every size, there are Independent Living Centers (ILCs), which have been serving people with all types of disabilities for decades. These centers, along with the Statewide Independent Living Councils (SILCs) merge their advocacy efforts under the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL), “the longest-running national cross-disability, grassroots organization run by and for people with disabilities.” For a list of local organizations serving people with psychiatric disabilities, see the National Alliance on Mental Illness. There are also many other organizations advocating for people with developmental/intellectual disabilities, including The Arc, Self Advocates Becoming Empowered, and Association of University Centers on Disabilities. A good resource for people with learning disabilities is the National Center for Learning Disabilities, in particular their information on Understanding Learning and Attention Issues.

The more people with disabilities view themselves and are viewed as valued members of their communities, the less they will be treated as mere subjects of inspiration. People with disabilities often are viewed as “inspirational,” even when undertaking tasks that would not otherwise be noteworthy if they had been done by non-disabled individuals. In 2014, the late Stella Young delivered a seminal Ted Talk in Sydney, Australia entitled “I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much.” It candidly explores the negative and often unconscious implications surrounding people with disabilities merely being thought of as inspirational. She coined a term that has since become part of the disability lexicon — “Inspiration Porn.” Person-centered career planning is the key, and individuals with disabilities themselves must be at the heart of what drives this effort.

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