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The Lurking Unconscious Bias: Are we as unprejudiced towards the disabled as we think?

By, The Say Foundation Team
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Disabilities affect more than 1 billion people's lives worldwide, an estimated 15% of the population.

A disability is defined as a physical or mental condition that makes certain activities and interactions with the world more difficult for persons with disabilities - and the stigmatization that comes with it does not make it any easier. 

The range of disabilities is extremely diverse. Each disability comes with its own set of challenges and needs. Nowadays, there are a lot of infrastructure and technologies available to assist persons with their respective disabilities - for example, Speech-to-Text technology that can be accessed on any smart device, which is extremely helpful for persons with a hearing impairment, or even something as simple as a ramp to make the lives of wheelchair users more convenient. With the help of these assistive devices, the world has become a more accessible place for persons with disabilities.

However, no amount of modernization will solve the bias that exists in the minds of people.

Discrimination is a familiar barrier that persons with disabilities face, and this discrimination is solely the result of the unconscious biases they carry.

An unconscious bias is formed because people tend to rely on past information and familiar thought patterns to make judgements and decisions quickly. The past information here can be influenced by a number of factors including people, culture, experiences and media. While the brain forms these connections to the past, it is not reliable or rational information. This can cause unconscious prejudice and discrimination.

It also does not help that each person believes they are less prejudiced than the average person, which may not be true. Not knowing what an unconscious bias contributes to the problem of discrimination because people are not even aware they are doing it.

This unconscious bias can affect the way persons with disabilities are perceived and can directly impact the jobs and opportunities they are given. In fact, persons with disabilities are significantly less likely to be employed than able-bodied people. Employers usually are prone to this unconscious bias, and feel like persons with disabilities can not work as efficiently as able-bodied people.

This judgment is not based on their merit and qualification, but on their disability alone.

So, how does one combat this bias?

1) Firstly, acknowledging and accepting any bias one may have instead of being ignorant or defensive about it.

2) Educating oneself and others,

3) Sparking important conversations and

4) Calling out bias in others is a good way to help people become more aware of their biases.

5) One should ensure they do not assume the capabilities of persons with disabilities, and instead focus on their merits.

PwDs may need some adjustments or accommodations on the part of the employer, but this can help them prove their abilities better by putting them on par with their able-bodied peers.

Being conscious, and aware and taking measures to work on the biases that exist in our minds makes the world a more inclusive place to live in, and a place where equality becomes a more realistic goal every day, little by little.

Let us know what you feel about this important topic. Have you noticed this personally or observed it in and around you? Let us know via contactus@thesayfoundation.com

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