Misconceptions of People with Disabilities (PWD)

Aug 17, 2022

July was disability pride month – promotion of awareness of disabilities as an identity, a community, and a culture.

On July 26, 1990, former president George Bush passed The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is a civil rights law that forbids discrimination in all aspects in life. This includes, schools, jobs, transportation, and all places that are open to the public.[1]

According to the Center of Disease Control (CDC), one in four adults in the United States have some form of a disability.[2] It’s important to educate about misconceptions of people with disabilities (PWD) and to shed light on what is inappropriate to say to someone who has a disability.

“Wheelchair bound.”

Using the term “wheelchair bound” emphasizes that someone is confined to their chair. But a wheelchair brings freedom to the disabled; it doesn’t hold one back. Wheelchair users view their chair as their “legs.” It allows them to move forward, to do anything anyone else can.

“You don’t look sick.”

It’s important to remember that not all disabilities are visible. According to The New York Times, it’s estimated that 10% of Americans have an invisible illness(es), including chronic conditions, like depression, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases. [3] “You don’t look sick,” someone may say. But how do they know? It’s a surface statement from someone who just can’t get below the surface themselves, or someone who simply does not care.

“Why does someone need a handicap placard if they can walk?”

There’s a misconception that a handicap placard is for someone who has limited mobility, or for an elderly person. A placard is used for many reasons besides limited mobility. Many of the conditions are invisible illness(es). According to Mass.gov, some of the qualifying conditions are lung condition(s), loss and or limited mobility requiring a mobility aid, vision impairment, limb difference or prosthesis, cardiac conditions, and the like.[4]

“If I were in your shoes, I’d kill myself.”

Sadly, this is a statement that is often said to people with disabilities (PWD). Having a disability is not the end of the world. It’s about adapting and thinking outside the box. Suicide is never the answer, and it’s the 12th leading cause of death.[5] If you are feeling unsafe towards yourself or others, call the national hotline number 1-800-273-8255, or text 741741.[6]

It’s important to remember to have compassion and think before you speak. Words are powerful and can be hurtful. It can cause emotional scarring. Treat others the way you’d want to be treated. A disability doesn’t discriminate; anyone can become disabled.


[1] “What Is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?” ADA National Network, July 13, 2022. https://adata.org/learn-about-ada.

[2] “Disability Impacts All of Us Infographic.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, September 16, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/infographic-disability-impacts-all.html.

[3] Solomon, Andrew. “What Happens When You’re Disabled but Nobody Can Tell.” The New York Times. The New York Times, July 10, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/10/style/invisible-disabilities.html.

[4] “Eligibility for Disability Plates and Placards.” Mass.gov. Accessed July 10, 2022. https://www.mass.gov/service-details/eligibility-for-disability-plates-and-placards.

[5] “Suicide Statistics.” American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, June 14, 2022. https://afsp.org/suicide-statistics.

[6] “Home.” American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, July 6, 2022. https://afsp.org/.



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