Disability – why your opinion is important


Marlee Matlin

When I was a little girl I had one burning ambition. It was to be an actress. I even wrote an essay, “If I was a movie star,” and it was so convincing it won a prize.

Sooner than I could have imagined I was winning bigger prizes, and for my acting. The Oscar, the Golden Globes. So, you will say, she achieved her ambition – far beyond the dreams of my teenage essay. And that is true…up to a point.

I achieved these goals because I never let the views of others restrict or define me. I never thought “I can’t do things because I’m deaf.” I just knew that I wanted to be in Hollywood, to be an actor just like everyone I saw on television or in the movies.

But through my work with disability rights and meeting other people with disabilities, I now know that self-belief is not enough. Other people’s opinions can define us, even more than our own. Where we see opportunity they see inability.

So many people have told me this.

Sarah, the successful artistic director of a theatre company recalls being told at school, “you can’t be an actor if you can’t read…you’ll be very, very lucky to get a job stacking boxes in a supermarket.”

Alan Benson, Chair of the UK’s Transport for All, has two Economics degrees. Yet in a restaurant, in his wheelchair, staff talk past him to his companion, assuming he can’t read or understand.

Naqi Rizvi, a Financial Analyst with a Master’s in Industrial Engineering, summed it up well for me when he said, “other people put the disability ahead of the person.”

And, be honest, when you look at me, what do you see? Marlee Matlin, the Oscar-winning actress? Or Marlee Matlin the Oscar-winning deaf actress?

No person with disability wants to be judged for what they are not. We want to be evaluated by how we work, who we are. But when it comes to disability it seems that everyone has an opinion. Even the best-intentioned people mistake disability for inability.

These opinions, however well-meaning, are invalid.

This matters. Invalid opinions hold back millions of talented, motivated people worldwide from entering and progressing in the workplace. We are supposed to celebrate diversity, but invalid opinions restrict it.

So, I now have a new ambition, and I need your help to achieve it.

I’m asking you to join me to campaign against #invalidopinions, alongside the ILO Global Business and Disability Network. Only if we all get rid of invalid opinions about persons with disabilities can we create truly inclusive workplaces and societies.

To me, to other persons with disabilities, your opinion matters. Make sure it is valid. Judge people for what they are, not what they are not.

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