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Disabled, not unable – Disabled people benefit greatly from compassion, technology

Submitted by on 03.06.2014 – 10:02 pm One Comment

A thief stole the Moscow Special Olympics team’s sporting equipment last month, and with it their chance to compete at the State Winter Games on March 1. Fortunately, the Moscow community and others rallied around the team with donations and an outpouring of support that enabled them to compete. 

Aleya Ericson | ArgonautThe kind gesture penetrates deeper than most would realize. Because unfortunately, the reality of living with a disability is one of dependence and reliance on community support and technology.

This reality of dependence is not one that Hollywood or general culture would believe exists. News stories on people with disabilities often feature people “overcoming” their disabilities and accomplishing amazing things.

For those with disabilities who struggle and need assistance with basic tasks — such as walking, talking or breathing — the cultural expectation of a person being able to shrug off a disability and accomplish heroics is crushing.

These heroics are often seen on the silver screen with disabled people becoming magically cured or literal superheroes. In reality, genetic mutations often result in crippling disabilities that impede the ability to function and be considered part of “normal” society.

My disability, neurofibromatosis type II, is caused by a mutation in the NF2 gene and results in the growth of noncancerous tumors on the central nervous system. So far, the only superpowers I have gained is a hand tremor that’s faster than a speeding bullet, handwriting slower than a tortoise and balance so poor that I can fall down stairs in a misplaced bound.

Fortunately, advances in technology and changes in societal attitudes have enabled people with disabilities to accomplish more than ever before. These new attitudes are a significant shift from the  past, where laws called the “ugly laws” in many U.S. states and cities banned people with disabilities from appearing in public. Before these laws are shrugged off as products of an intolerant era, the last “ugly” law was repealed by Chicago as recently as 1974 — nearly a decade after the Civil Rights Act was passed.

In 1973 in the U.S., Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act — a statute designed to protect the civil rights of disabled individuals — was signed into law and helped prevent atrocities such as the “ugly laws.”

In compliance with Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the University of Idaho Disability Support Services helps disabled students by providing technology and learning accommodations, so a disability is less of a hurdle in obtaining an education.

Technology allows people with disabilities to accomplish great things. DSS provides disabled students with speech recognition software and Livescribe smartpens. The speech recognition software is comparable to an advanced version of Siri that allows for computer commands to be spoken. The Livescribe smartpen permits those with slow handwriting speeds to gain necessary notes from rapid-fire college lectures.

However, specialized technology is incredibly expensive. The high cost of specialized equipment, and general sporting equipment, is what made the initial theft of the team’s equipment so disheartening. The theft was $4,000 worth of equipment, so replacing the equipment would have been extremely costly to the team.

Fortunately, people rallied around the team and they were able to compete in the winter games. This outpouring of support is a critical demonstration of a shift in societal values and community kindness. Leaving behind the ugly past treatment of disabilities, the community rescued the team when they most needed it.

The world is filled with people with all kinds of disabilities. From moderate to severe disabilities, they populate more classrooms, offices and walks of life than one would expect. While disabled people may not become superheroes, continued community support and the use of technology is critical in allowing us to live a successful life.

Aleya Ericson can be reached at

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