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Why Do We Turn Away From People with Disabilities?

during Opening Day  at Marlins Park on April 4, 2012 in Miami, Florida.

Last week, “The Greatest” Mohammed Ali threw out the first pitch of the season for the Miami Marlins.  This was a very noble act with one of the most recognized humans on the earth bestowing an honor for a great city and team.  The problem began when Ali was driven out to the mound on the back of a golf cart and the audience saw his condition.  The once muscular and bigger than life superstar was huddled over, very thin and unhealthy looking and flailing his arms uncontrollably.  He looked more like a nursing home patient in the last throes of life than the celebrity athlete.

Immediately, thousands of tweets went off about how inappropriate it was to show this man in this frail condition and what poor taste it was.  It was a very news worthy event that day.

Why does this happen and what does it mean?  There is a lot of discussion here and many people can weigh in on many opinions, but what can’t be disputed is that able bodied people frequently want to turn their heads when they see a severely disabled person in their space.  It has happened to all of us at some time, at a park, at a mall, when walking downtown, etc.  We see a disabled, maimed, contorted, crippled, individual and we look away.  Why do we do this?  Most of us don’t do it to be mean, but we do it because we are hurt about the unfairness of life and it pains us to see a fellow human in such distress.  Many do the same thing when stopping at an intersection and see a homeless person begging for money.  We look away because the sight disturbs us.  Some look away because they don’t want to contribute as well.

In any event, we “sterilize” our vision to eliminate unpleasant imagery.  We don’t want to see things that disturb us.  It may be a natural protection mechanism, but that does not make it right.  We need to condition ourselves to do the opposite.  We need to fight the urge to look away and we need to take a good look and embed the image into our minds.  We need to do this not only to remind ourselves how lucky able bodied people are, but to keep in mind how tough other people have it in life.  The next step we should do is to take a few seconds and approach these people and say a simple “hello” or ask them how they are doing.  Remember, these people are quite used to seeing people quickly turn away when they enter their line of sight.  Please remember that these people are in fact people.  A small chat with someone who is used to being shunned may be a huge boost in their happiness.  We, as a society, are used to sweeping unpleasant things under the rug and often times it is at the expense of others feelings.

We can become better people by accepting all types of people and not only looking at them, but also touching their life with a simple smile or chat.  It is sad that people were repulsed by the condition of “The Champ” as Ali is what he is.  He has severe Parkinson’s disease and that is what people with severe Parkinson’s look like.  It should not repulse us, we should not look away.  On the contrary, we should look directly at the person and look into their eyes and their heart.  We need to look into their lives and think about how they must differ from our lives.  This is a great impetus for us to get involved with causes like Parkinson’s, or the thousands of other conditions that strike people down in the prime of their lives.

I am the father of 9 and 12 year old sons with severe intellectual and physical disabilities.  I, at one time, was guilty of looking away as well.  It was just too painful for me to see disabled children.  Now, being in the middle of the situation, see things from a very different view.

We cannot and should not try to filter life by ignoring or turning away from those less fortunate.  I hope that this blog can inspire at least one person to change their behavior and next time they encounter a situation, they do the opposite.  When they see a person with a disability, they embrace the opportunity to be thankful for what they have and make an attempt to try and embrace the person in their view.  You never know where this can take you or the person you approach.

So, Mohammed Ali is very sick and not the athlete he once was.  Get over it, this is life.  He is our grandfather, our father and our brother.  He is one of the millions of disabled people in our society.  That is what life is, sometimes it is not pretty.  Sometimes it is sad, but it is still life.  Make it better!

Joe Niamtu, III DMD

Cosmetic Facial Surgery

Richmond, Virginia

Office Address

Joe Niamtu III, DMD
11319 Polo Place
Midlothian, VA 23113

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Monday - Friday
8:00am - 5:00pm

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