New Ways of Thinking and Revolutionary Common Sense
Challenging Conventional Wisdom
About People with Disabilities
Within our judicial system, a person is presumed innocent. At trial, the person charged with breaking the law doesn’t even have to take the stand to defend himself; it’s up to the prosecution to present evidence which shows the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Similarly, in every day interchanges, we meet new people at work, in a store, or in other activities, and we generally presume they’re competent. We presume, for example, that someone labeled “teacher,” “doctor,” “cashier,” or “mother” is competent in the role. Sometimes, once we get to know someone better, we might discover he/she is more/less competent in some areas than others, which is true for all of us! (The late, great Ann Landers once cautioned us to remember that 50 percent of all doctors graduated in the lower half of their class—and the same is true for any other category of graduates.) But like the judicial counterpart of “presumed innocent,” our initial reaction to others is to presume competence. And there are many other instances where similar positive presumptions are made about a business, situation, organization, etc. It seems that, in general, we initially presume the positive, unless and until we receive information to the contrary.
There is no proof that the presence of a disability automatically confers an incompetent status.
And many negative consequences result from our erroneous, unfair, and prejudicial presumptions. Children and adults with disabilities are segregated from the mainstream and isolated in special programs for treatments, interventions, and services. They may be prevented from engaging in the ordinary experiences most of us take for granted.
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