Advocacy project to fight disability stigmatization

June 1, 2017 Cranberry Eblast Only

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CRANBERRY TWP — A new advocacy project in Butler County is trying to end the stigmatization of people with disabilities through outreach events, including one coming up in Cranberry.

Butler County We Belong will show the documentary “What Are You Thinking?” starting at 6 p.m. June 13 in Cranberry Public Library’s Franklin Room.

The film encourages people to look at their own stigmatizing behavior and gives easy ways to make changes to eliminate stigmas against people with disabilities.

A panel discussion with local advocates and people who have disabilities will follow and allow people in attendance to ask questions and participate in the discussion.

“People should come if it sparks your interest,” said Brenda Cole, strategic program development officer for Community Care Connections. “Disability is one of those groups that any of us could join at any minute. It’s better to know and understand it now.”

Butler County We Belong is a Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council grant-funded project of Community Care Connections, a disability support organization based in Butler that serves more than 700 people in nine counties, Cole said.

Cole, also the project officer for Butler County We Belong, said they got the 18-month grassroots grant last October and formed an advisory council to guide Butler County We Belong’s advocacy work.

“What I was hoping for was a way to pull together people within the community to say people who have disabilities have a right to live, work and play in the communities where they live,” Cole said. “So how can we identify any barriers or easy openings for those individuals to connect them?”

One barrier is stigmas that people with physical, intellectual and mental disabilities face every day, like the belief that people with disabilities are brave or heroic for getting up and doing everyday activities or that employees with disabilities have higher absentee rates.

Even if you mean well, you can be contributing to damaging stigmas, said Tammy Rose. She works as a family information specialist at the Center for Community Resources and is on the advisory council for Butler County We Belong. She’s also mother to two daughters who have special needs.

Rose said she saw the documentary earlier this year and said it’s eye-opening. She hopes people who watch it come away with a deeper sense of awareness of disabilities and the effect their words and behaviors have.

“Even if your thinking has a positive twist to it, there is still that stigma,” Rose said. “I tell my two girls every single day, do not let your disability get in the way of achieving your dreams and don’t ever use your disability as a crutch. ”