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Inclusive leadership coach Barton Cutter shares why people assume people with disabilities are dumb and how to facilitate understanding and listening.

Michael Monaco is an amazing artist and painter. His artwork showcases stunning colors and technique many artists strive for.
He also happens to be quadriplegic.

After an automobile accident when he was 16, Michael has lost the ability to use both his arms and legs. He solely paints using his mouth to hold the brush and has had many exhibitions around the world. Michael also is a member of the Mouth and Foot Painters Association, a for-profit association to help raise money for disabled artists that helps them financially.

As someone who’s had arthritis since the age of 2, I’ve experienced many awkward moments with strangers who simply must draw attention to my disability. Whether they meant well or not, comments like, “Do you have a license for that wheelchair?” or “Let’s race!” usually don’t sit well with me.

If you don’t know someone with a disability, chances are you have a few misconceptions about us.

The thing is no one can expect you to read our minds, but if you’re out there right now and are interested in expanding your world view, check out a few things people tend to get wrong about us (or rather don’t fully understand). By the end of his post, consider yourself enlightened.

I recently wrote an article about 15 things you should never say to a special needs parent. While writing it, I had a hard time focusing on things not to say, and kept wanting to suggest alternative options, which is how this article came about.

Just three short years ago I was ignorant to the realities of paralysis. I didn’t know what it meant to have a spinal cord injury or what that world was like.

No matter the type of person, there are lessons to be learned from them. People with disabilities are especially influential, as our hardships in life aren’t easily forgotten. We go through every day with determination and strength, which many people are bowled over by, with many secretly wondering if they could do the same thing.

I’m a girl. And like a lot of girls in their 20s, I like to feel pretty. You wouldn’t really know it by looking at me, though – my standard uniform is a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, maybe a pullover or zip up sweatshirt in the winter. In the summer, you can always find a pair of Crocs on my feet; in the winter, a pair of UGG or EMU boots.

Discrimination in a fact of life for many groups of people, but to be honest, I never really gave much thought to discrimination growing up. It wasn’t until I became disabled when I was 14-years-old when I finally understood what discrimination meant. It meant not only being misunderstood, but being rudely mistreated. No one truly understands what discrimination is until they’re on the receiving end of things.

Spend a week or a decade in a wheelchair, chances are you’ll be asked some pretty crazy things. And I get why–people are uncomfortable around things that are different, especially wheelchairs. (Even more so if they don’t know anyone who uses a wheelchair on a personal level).