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People with disabilities face many barriers every day–from physical obstacles in buildings to systemic barriers in employment and civic programs.Yet, often, the most difficult barriers to overcome are attitudes other people carry regarding people with disabilities.Whether born from ignorance, fear, misunderstanding or hate, these attitudes keep people from appreciating–and experiencing–the full potential a person with a disability can achieve.
This attitude has the effect of patronizing people with disabilities, usually relegating them to low-skill jobs, setting different job standards (sometimes lower standards which tend to alienate co-workers, sometimes higher standards to prove they cannot handle a job), or expecting a worker with a disability to appreciate the opportunity to work instead of demanding equal pay, equal benefits, equal opportunity and equal access to workplace amenities.
People with disabilities encounter many different forms of attitudinal barriers.
Unlike physical and systematic barriers, attitudinal barriers that often lead to illegal discrimination cannot be overcome simply through laws.
A lawyer is effective if he or she has a solid grasp of law and can present a complete case before a jury or judge; that the lawyer accesses law books through a Kurzweil reader because he or she is blind is immaterial to the job skill.
A rancher is effective if she or he feeds the cattle and mends the fences; that the rancher with paraplegia operates a cattle feeder system in the bed of a truck via a rod from the cab or rides an all-terrain vehicle to reach fences is immaterial to the job skill.
A stocker in a factory is effective if he or she packages the proper number of items in each bin; that the stocker, because of a developmental disability that limits attention span, uses a counting device is not only immaterial to the job skill, but can make–and has made–that person the most accurate stocker on the factory floor.
Agent Mulder expresses a more insidious attitude–that society doesn't expect people with disabilities to perform up to standard, and when people with disabilities do, they are somehow courageous.
In the "Quagmire" episode of the television series The X-Files, Agent Mulder, discussing Moby Dick's Captain Ahab, tells Scully he always wished he had a physical disability.
His reasoning: because society doesn't expect much from people with disabilities, he wouldn't have to work so hard to prove himself.