How To Change Public Perception Of Adults With Intellectual Disabilities Through Community Involvement

This holiday season, we reflect on how far the public perception of adults with intellectual disabilities has come in recent years, and think about how we can continue to improve awareness by dispelling wrongful stereotypes. Society can judge those that struggle with intellectual disabilities harshly, in part due to a lack of understanding. As professionals, it is our duty to change perceptions by educating others and encouraging our patients to be their best.

We’ve seen greater acceptance for individuals with intellectual disabilities – from college programs that enable them to get a higher education to part-time jobs that lead to passionate and driven careers. However, there are many miles left for us to go. Adults with disabilities still face ridicule in some places, while others simply are not given the opportunity to succeed. The first step in making a positive difference is by getting the community involved.

As community members volunteer this holiday season, expose them to the beautiful souls of your patients who have intellectual disabilities. Show them that just because they have a disability, it doesn’t mean they cannot succeed or be productive members of the community themselves.

Here are three tips when working with the community, in order to impact the public perception of adults with intellectual disabilities:

#1: Use Thoughtful Language

Sometimes, we use hurtful language or talk down to others without meaning to. Be thoughtful with your language (both words and body language) and avoid doing more damage to the perception of adults with disabilities.

Additionally, when others use harmful language, don’t be afraid to say something. You are the first line of defense for your patients when it comes to public perception. Just as you wouldn’t accept someone making a rude or hurtful comment about their physical appearance, don’t let a remark pass about their intellectual struggles. Let others know it is unacceptable to use derogatory language.

#2: Empower Adults With Intellectual Disabilities

If you’re working with adults with intellectual disabilities alongside other community members, don’t expect any less from them. Empower them to be successful and productive in their activities. Empower them to speak up in their own defense. Empower them to have self-confidence in who they are and what they love to do.

If others you’re working with are underestimating them, show the community that your patients are capable and that they can succeed. The best way to prove public perceptions wrong is through example.

#3: Be Honest

The best way we can impact public perception is by being honest with each other. Encourage community members to ask questions (politely) of both you as a mental health professional and your patients — and don’t tiptoe around questions that might be challenging to answer. While maintain professional standards, try to be honest about these real issues, the progress, and the daily struggles, in order to give the community a better understanding of just how harmful misconceptions can be.

Pathways of Pennsylvania has been serving communities in Pennsylvania since 1981. Every individual has a right to lead a meaningful and positive life, and we are changing lives, one day at a time. Pathways of Pennsylvania is comprised of four companies: Children’s Behavioral Health, Inc., Pathways Community Services, LLC, Raystown Developmental Services, Inc., and The ReDCo Group, Inc.