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Think Beyond the Label

Earlier this year, Stuart Elliot of the New York Times wrote an article about a national media campaign:  Think Beyond the Label.  This campaign, and a series of advertisements, which humorously label persons working in an office as “pattern deficient”, “volume control syndrome”, or “rhythm impaired”, poke fun at labeling in general and try to make the point – people who are different or disabled could still help your company succeed.  (to read the entire article, go to http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/29/business/media/29adco.html)

Think Beyond the Label is collaboration with Health & Disabilities Advocates to provide job services for the disabled.  More than that, the campaign directly targets employers to influence them to hire persons who are disabled. (for more information on this organization, visit their website at http://www.thinkbeyondthelabel.com/Default.aspx)

Labeling has been on my mind lately (a local radio personality made a snafu on national TV by calling the Band Director & students at a local high school “geeky”) and my students (I teach 10th grade) and I have been talking about how in high school one label can ruin your entire educational experience.  This is, in a small way, an illustration of what the words “handicapped”, “disabled”, “retards”, “cripples” do to an entire community/population of people—without knowing someone, their skill set or their intellectual capacity, as a society, we size them up by merely what they look like physically.  This is certainly not fair.  Believe me, in 8 years of teaching I have come across some physically capable individuals who could no more send a fax than a flowerpot.  The outside cover doesn’t necessarily reveal the inside story.  But we all know that.  Those of us reading (and writing) this blog understand that beauty is on the inside.

I have often been a worrier of the label “disabled”, though it seems commonly accepted. “Handicapped” seems acceptable, too, though not as much as the other.I guess my question is – why do we have a label for persons born with disabilities?  What does it matter?  We don’t label persons with cancer.  We don’t label people who have celiac disease or an allergy to peanuts.  These people don’t have national campaigns promoting their intelligence and asking for jobs.  Why is society first, so quick to label someone in a wheelchair and second, afraid to hire or to teach them?  It seems as if society is quick to dispense out pity for those who weren’t born “normal” because they see everything they can’t do without looking for what they can.

Disabled”, to me, is a crippling label.  According to Webster dictionary, disabled is

: Incapacitated by illness or injury; also : physically or mentally impaired in a way that substantially limits activity especially in relation to employment or education

By definition, this label puts limits on a person.  Thus, their mindset begins.  The problem with that is that technology and advocacy organizations have provided ways for persons who have no limbs to compete in Olympic sports such as a marathon, basketball or snowboarding.  Can you imagine if Franklin D. Roosevelt’s parents allowed him to be limited by a label?

I believe the work and intent of Think Beyond the Label is pure hearted and it seems, overall, to be a good organization.  But just as their “About Us” reveals, they are an organization for the disabled – they want us to think beyond the label and yet they clearly label those who may have some physical challenges.  Labeling has become so widely accepted that we do it effortlessly, without even thinking about it.  The message this organization (and others like it) is trying to send is good (and has merit and is important) but perhaps a more accurate message could be one advocating a world without labels.  Instead of “Think Beyond the Label” it should be “Free Yourself From the Label”.  Who knows, maybe it would catch on and we could live in a world where we aren’t constantly judging each other by something on the outside and see each other for our value on the inside.

2 Responses to “Think Beyond the Label”

  1. Jen Potter says:

    good article, but I’d like to point out that FDR did not contract polio until he was 39.

  2. Annie Beth says:

    That’s interesting. I always think of polio as a “childhood disease”. That reminds me of how easily all of our circumstances can change- at any point in our life. If we are healthy, we tend to imagine ourselves as always being that way, but in reality, any one of us could be in a wheelchair next year. Or be fighting cancer. Or any number of things. We may become one of the people we think of in labeling terms. But thanks for the history lesson. I’ll let “l” know, ;)

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