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Disabled have responsibility to bridge miscommunication gap

People with disabilities are ideal targets: targets for fear of the unknown, targets for misconceptions, targets for negative attitudes.

The only way to erode such negative feelings is through exposure and interaction between people with disabilities and the able-bodied.

Children are the great ice-breakers.

To them, I don't have multiple sclerosis, an incurable disease that has caused me to use a wheelchair. To them, my legs simply don't work.

To children, a person is not visually impaired; their eyes simply don't work.

Children have simplistic perceptions because they haven't been indoctrinated with political correctness. They don't have the means to have developed fears, misconceptions and negative attitudes.

When I encounter a child _ for example, in a store _ his look of curiosity is compelling. As soon as I establish eye contact, his hesitancy or reluctance melts.

"What happened to your legs?" he'll ask. And the conversation begins between me and my new buddy. A few minutes later he is whisked away by his parents, but that little guy will not soon forget the man in a chair whose legs don't work.

Breaking down barriers, removing obstacles to understanding, developing a continuing interaction: Those are responsibilities for every person with a disability. If we are not willing to reach out, how can we expect the able-bodied world to understand and empathize with our issues?

Maybe then people would stop yelling at the deaf or blind, as if doing so could aid communication. Maybe people with cerebral palsy would not have their balance problems mistaken for public drunkenness. Maybe waiters and other service personnel would address us directly, instead of in the third person.

Just as children do, able-bodied people should look to us to set the tone. Establish a rapport. After a while, the disability evaporates from their minds, and a person with a disability is then perceived simply as a person.