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Change Your Attitude First!

Editor's Note: Uzma Khan was the 2003-04 Coordinator of RyeACCESS, and is the Vice-Chair of the Accessibility Advisory Council of Ontario (AACO). Uzma lives in Toronto, and since 1998 has been a board member of ERDCO (Ethno-Racial People with Disabilities Coalition of Ontario), a non-profit organization advocating on behalf of ethno-racial people with disabilities. She is a co-founder of Canada-Wide Accessibility for Post-Secondary Students (CanWAPSS), which works to increase accessibility and inclusion for post-secondary students with disabilities.

Photo: Head shot of Uzma Khan

If there's one significant lesson I've learned in life, it's that in order to effectively change people's attitudes and perceptions of people with disabilities, the attitudes of people with disabilities must change first.

I used to mope around and wish for a "cure" until I began to realize how much precious time in life I was wasting--wishing and hoping. Then I started questioning myself: Why did I want a "cure"? Was there really any aspect of me that needed to be "fixed"?

No way! I'm not a broken piece of technology that has to be repaired so that I can function effectively--to live, breathe, eat, sleep, love etc. For me to be truly happy, I needed to be happy with my identity. It was time for me to change my own attitude.

It took me a while to come to this realization. Some people with disabilities never come to this conclusion. I'm glad I realized this in my early 20's, but that's still two decades of time gone by. However, on a more positive note, I did change my attitude.

In the past, I used to distinguish my disability from me. I have low vision, but I never used to use a white cane. I'd hide my disability as much as possible, and I was pretty good at it too. I didn't notice this then, but by trying to hide my disability, I was actually putting up more barriers for myself.

When I finally decided to start using a white cane, the positives became more surreal. Sure, it disclosed that I have a disability to the rest of the world who didn't already know, but by disclosing I was breaking down some of the barriers that I had created for myself. To begin using a white cane was one of the best decisions I've ever made. I opened a huge door to independence.

Now, I am proud of who I am and who I am includes all aspects of my disability. I have my own right to live my life to its fullest. Guess what? So do all people with disabilities!

A person with a disability has his/her own right to live his/her life to its fullest, but before one can do this, one has to change one's own attitude first. No one is going to do this for anyone else. The key is to stop caring about what others think and start caring about oneself. People with disabilities should be happy and be proud.

People with disabilities who are not already involved in the disability community should consider being a part of the broader disability movement, through taking on leadership and advocacy initiatives and building relationships with other people with disabilities. It's not a crime for a person with a disability to have friends with disabilities. It's actually a self-esteem and self-confidence booster because people with disabilities face a variety of similar barriers and can easily relate to one another.

As one of the founders of Canada-Wide Accessibility for Post-Secondary Students (CanWAPSS), I help to promote self-advocacy of post-secondary students with disabilities, along with the disability movement at large. We demonstrate this feeling of being proud and confident through our annual "Simply People:

Celebrating Our Lives & Our Identities" event. This event is geared towards bringing the disability community together in celebration via a march followed by performers and speakers. To find out more about this event and other initiatives and information, please visit: www.canwapss.com

Through celebrating and being proud, people with disabilities can fully enjoy each day as it passes rather than creating more barriers for themselves, including their own anti-disability attitudinal barriers. For people to completely accept others, others must fully accept themselves first, including the acceptance of all aspects of their own disability or disabilities.