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Letter to the Editor the Journal News
Re: "Woman born with dwarfism teaches life lesson in acceptance,” May 22, 2012 article:
Unfortunately, Ms. Ramaswamy’s story did little to enlighten Journal News readers about the importance of embracing diversity when it comes to per sons with disabilities. It actually promoted the opposite view, reinforcing att itudinal discrimination, with an overemphasis on Geri Mariano’ s disability and the fact that she is different. The story leads with Ms. Mariano as a 3-foot-tall wo man who “suffers” from dwarfism with a “secret ambition” get a job, which Ms. Ramaswamy clumsily and offensively points out is “no tall order.” Ms. Mariano, the person, comes in a distant second.
Is it to be assumed that persons with disabilities suffer? As for her “secret ambition,” Ms. Mariano, who is a graduate of Smith College with a master’s degree from Lehman College, would like to get a job in her field just like everyone else. She is a bright, talented and articulate woman who has encountered employment discrimination ever since she graduated, mainly due to attitudinal inequity and misconceptions regarding her disability.
As one of the program directors of a Westchester-based disability advocacy organization, I am well aware of how public prejudice of disability, w hether in the form of pity, ignorance or fear, has lead to the 64% unemploymen t rate of working-age adults with disabilities, with nearly one third earning an income below the poverty level. Many of our consumers are academically qualifi ed and passionate about finding suitable work, but are viewed as incapabl e of sustaining gainful employment. One young man with cerebral palsy completed his MBS over 3 years ago and finally found a job – the first since he graduated – as a temp data entry clerk. Another one of our consumers completed his law de gree over fifteen years ago and has never been employed. He currently per forms pro bono legal counseling.
Ms. Mariano’s work with young students is important and she loves doing it. However, as long as we have an appetite to gape and a media willing to serve, the public perception of persons with disabilities will continue to be steeped in misunderstanding and employment and attitudinal discrimination will persist. And diversity will always be something less understood and more often taught.
Westchester Independent Living Center, Inc.