December 3rd is the annual observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The United Nations created this day in 1992 to promote understanding and awareness of individuals with disabilities and the difficulties that they face, both from their disability and from how others treat them due to their disability. There are many negative stereotypes associated with having a disability, and this day is about recognizing the rights of people with disabilities, as well as educating society about the truth of disabilities and to encourage change and equality.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990 defined an individual with a disability as “a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.” Its purpose was to defend the rights of individuals with disabilities by requiring equal treatment and preventing discrimination. However, instead of protecting a broad range of individuals with disabilities as intended, the ADA was often used to make it more difficult to be considered disabled and therefore only assisted a small number of people. Courts would rule that an individual’s impairments were not severe enough to be classified as a disability, and that individual’s rights would be denied. In 2008, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) to more clearly define what constitutes a disability and to reverse several Supreme Court rulings that utilized a misinterpretation of the law. While interpretation of the ADAAA has had somewhat of a positive impact, individuals with disabilities still face many adversities, especially those with less obvious disabilities. Most of us don’t consider the invisible disabilities that those around us are dealing with. You cannot look at a person and immediately tell if they have depression, insomnia, traumatic brain injury, hearing loss, or any of the many other invisible disabilities. As we observe this day, please consider those whose disabilities are not so obvious because they also need our help and support.
In the United States, there are 61 million adults living with a disability. Out of that, there are 46.7 million adults whose disability includes mental illness. And 7.7 million children ages 6-17 have experienced a mental health disorder. Despite how common these disorders are, there is still a widespread lack of understanding about mental illness. There are many harmful, inaccurate stereotypes about individuals with mental illness which leads to others treating them in a rude or offensive manner. These individuals are often treated unfairly with regards to housing, education, employment, and healthcare. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) goes as far as calling it discrimination. They say that individuals with disabilities are treated as being inferior and have unequal rights, despite ADA, and they are calling for a change. The International Day of Persons with Disabilities is a way to highlight the problem and get more people involved in finding its solution.
Contrary to common misperceptions, individuals with mental illness are able to lead normal lives if their condition is properly addressed. However, people may hide their diagnosis or even be afraid to be evaluated due to mental illness continuing to have such a negative connotation. It is important for those who are experiencing symptoms of a mental illness to be evaluated by a medical or mental health professional to help identify the problem. This information will then be used to come up with a treatment plan. It is imperative to follow through with the treatment plan and to work with the professional to monitor your progress. But for individuals with mental illness, it is very difficult to even take the first step without support from family and friends. Eliminating the stigma associated with mental illness will remove a giant roadblock that is preventing many individuals from getting the help that they need.
If you have or believe that you have a mental illness, make sure that you get the assistance that you need, both from medical professionals and your family and friends. Support those around you who are affected by mental illness. Help educate others about the truth about mental illness and how to respectfully treat individuals with disabilities. Person first mentality needs to be made clear. These are people who have a disability, and the disability should not define them. Everyone deserves to be treated with equality.
We are pleased to announce that Mindful Assessments and Psychological Services will soon be starting a geriatric care center REEACH: Respectful Evaluations and Education for Adult Cognitive Health
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