Past the Point of Awareness

I’m sure this can partially be attributed to my involvement with the Spina Bifida community and the disability community at large, but the older I get, awareness campaigns for disability and chronic illness have started to wear on me. Especially October, which seems to be especially popular as the month to bring awareness to a myriad of different conditions (Down Syndrome, Mental Health, Breast Cancer, etc). But while October does bring a large number of campaigns, it really is an ongoing thing.

Around this time of year the campaign for Indiana’s disability awareness month gets announced ahead of the actual month, March. April is famously known to be Autism awareness month. September is Hydrocephalus awareness month, an irony I have to appreciate as that’s my birthday month. Then there’s October, hosting numerous campaigns as I said, including Spina Bifida awareness month. After a point these awareness campaigns seem to take up the better part of the year.

My question is, do we really need these campaigns anymore? Have we not reached a saturation point of being made aware? Should we not by now be working toward acceptance instead? Perhaps not, the medical community and our government still have a ways to go to actively meet the needs of the disability community, and maybe improving awareness should still be a part of that process.

But as far as the public at large goes, so much information is available that education on disability issues isn’t something that should fall to advocates, activists or your local disabled person anymore. First and foremost it should be something that is actively included in education at all levels. And I’m not just talking about teaching about different disabilities, but also disability history and culture, our fight for equality and civil rights that continues to this day.

This is why I suggest that we move from awareness campaigns to a focus on acceptance. The learning can happen organically easily enough, and it should. But acceptance takes real world experience, not just education. It requires an understanding of a community separate from but adjacent to your own. It takes a basic level of respect. That’s what I feel like awareness campaigns miss.

They create these images of poster children and model disabled people. This works fine for sharing press kits of information that give the basics of a certain condition. But it often severely lacks that human element. Disabled and chronically ill people in that context are reduced to life lessons, no more impactful than the average afterschool special.

Maybe I’m off the mark with all this. Feel free to continue the discussion in the comments section. I’d love to hear other opinions

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