Cultural Diversity?: Don't Forget the Disabled!
Fuller, John, Law & Order
Within the context of Community Policing, the term "cultural diversity" is thought to represent the various ethnic, racial and religious segments that comprise the American social mosaic. Often, however, we neglect to include another identifiably diverse social group: the disabled persons, formerly known as the handicapped.
As legally defined by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), a person is disabled if he or she has a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, which can include such basic bodily functions as walking, seeing, hearing, breathing and even standing or sitting.
An estimated 49 million people in the United States have a disability. Over 24 million of them have a severe disability and more than half of the U.S. population, over age 65, is disabled in some way, shape or form. Statistically, a significant portion of the U.S. population is disabled or physically limited in some meaningful degree. As police administrators, the chances are good your people will be interacting with the disabled more frequently than you previously imagined.
Many well-intentioned police officers have uncomfortable attitudes toward the disabled, often viewing them as individuals to be pitied or ignored. This attitude may originate from an uneasiness of being around people who are perceived to be "different," or simply from ignorance about disabilities in general. There are many forms of human disabilities; some of the more prominent types can include the following:
People with mobilityimpairments use assistive devices such as crutches, walkers or, most commonly, wheelchairs.
Blind or Visually-Impaired People with 20/200 vision with best correction are legally blind. Some blind people do have some residual sight.
Deaf or Hearing Impaired
Many deaf people are born deaf while others may become deaf due to early childhood illnesses. Hardof-hearing people are born with normal hearing, but their hearing becomes impaired due to disease, old age or occupational hazards.
Developmental disabilities include mental retardation, autism, cerebral palsy and epilepsy. A handy mnemonic is MACE. These conditions are characterized as "developmental" because they appear during a person's early, developing years.
Mental retardation is a serious inability to learn and to function appropriately in normal social situations. Mental retardation is a permanent condition and should not be confused with mental illness, which can be of temporary duration.
Cerebral palsy is a brain disorder that affects muscle control and sensory functions and is characterized by involuntary and uncontrollable body movements. Epilepsy is a disorder of the central nervous system, distinguished by sudden seizures, convulsions and loss of consciousness. Autism is typified by interpersonal communication problems and compulsive behavior, along with a corresponding lack of social awareness.
Mentally Ill Persons
Mental illness can be psychotic, which is a progressive disintegration of an individual's personality, or functional, which is due to overwhelming stress coupled with an individual's inability to adequately cope. …