Myths, Misconceptions, and Realities Of Disability

1. Wheelchair users are paralyzed and, therefore, are confined to their chairs.
False: Some people can walk, but their strength may be limited so they use a wheelchair to enable them to travel longer distances. Also, some people who use wheelchairs prefer to transfer to more comfortable chairs such as those at their desk or in a restaurant.


2. Deaf people cannot speak.
False: Deafness does not affect the vocal cords, although it can affect a person's ability to hear and monitor the sounds they make. Some people who are deaf make a conscious choice not to use their voice while others choose to speak. The type and degree of hearing loss as well as the age of the person when they became deaf (i.e. before or after learning to speak English) also influences their speech.


3. People with disabilities live very different lives than people without disabilities.
False: Overall, people with disabilities live the same as you and I. Although, some ways of doing things may be a little bit different depending on the type and severity of the disability.  For example, someone with limited use of their arms and legs can drive, but their car will be fitted with hand controls for gas and brakes and possibly a special handle to grip on the steering wheel.


4. Employees with disabilities have a higher absentee rate than employees without disabilities.
False: Studies by firms such as DuPont show that employees with disabilities are not absent any more than employees without disabilities. In fact, these studies show that on the average, people with disabilities have better attendance rates than their non-disabled counterparts.


5. It is important to place persons with disabilities in jobs where they will not fail.
False: Everyone has the right to fail as well as to succeed. Be careful not to hold someone back from a position or a promotion because you think that there is a possibility that he or she might fail in the position. If this person is the best-qualified candidate, give them the same opportunity to try that you would give anyone else.


6. People with disabilities are less likely to have accidents than other employees.
True: Two studies, one conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics during the 1940's and a current study recently completed by the DuPont Company support the findings that workers with disabilities performed significantly higher than their counterparts without disabilities in the area of safety. These studies included people in professional, technical, managerial, operational, labor, clerical, and service areas. It evaluated individuals with orthopedic, vision, heart, health, and hearing disabilities. Conclusion: Workers with disabilities are often more aware, not less, of safety issues in the workplace.


7. Persons who are deaf make ideal employees for noisy work environments.
False: Loud noises of a certain vibratory nature can cause further harm to the auditory system. Persons who are deaf should be hired for all jobs that they have the skills and talents to perform. No person with a disability should be prejudged regarding employment opportunities.


8. Considerable expense is necessary to accommodate workers with disabilities.
False: Most workers with disabilities require no special accommodations and the cost for those who do is minimal or much lower than many employers believe.  Studies by the President’s Committee's Job Accommodation Network have shown that 15 percent of accommodations cost nothing, 51 percent cost between $1 and $500, 12 percent cost between $501 and $1,000, and 22 percent cost more than $1,000.


9. People with disabilities need special legal procedures.
False: While there are laws in place, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, that serve to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities by providing equal access in the areas of employment, transportation, public accommodations, public services, and telecommunications, there are no special legal procedures for people with disabilities.


10. Deaf persons do not appreciate music, theater, movies, etc., because they cannot hear.
False: Today many movies and television shows are captioned. That means that conversations appear as words on the screen. If a program is open captioned, no special decoder is needed. If a show is closed captioned, a TV with a decoder is needed. The Americans with Disabilities Act mandates that all new televisions 13 inches and larger MUST include a built-in caption decoder. Many theaters offer special performances that are interpreted into sign language. Again, the type and degree of hearing loss as well as the age of the person when they became deaf also influences their appreciation of music.


11. Certain jobs are more suited to persons with disabilities.
False: As with all people, certain jobs may be better suited to some than to others. While there are obvious bad job matches, such as someone who is blind and wants to be a bus driver or someone who is quadriplegic and wants to be a loader for a shipping company, be careful not to pigeon hole people in or out of certain occupations based on their disability. Just because you can only think of one way to do something does not mean that other ways do not exist that are equally effective.


12. Most people with cerebral palsy are less intelligent than the general population.
False: CP does not itself affect a person's intelligence. However, at times a person may have CP and another disability, such as a Developmental Disability that affects intellectual functioning.


13. Blind people have exceptional hearing.
False: A person's vision, or lack of vision, does not affect their hearing. However, someone who is blind may depend more on their hearing and be more attuned to sounds than a sighted counterpart.


14. An employer's worker’s compensation rates rise when they hire disabled workers.
False: Insurance rates are based solely on the relative hazards of the operation and the organization's accident experience, not on whether workers have disabilities. A study conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers showed that 90% of the 279 companies surveyed reported no effect on insurance costs as a result of hiring workers with disabilities.


15. Persons with disabilities are unable to meet performance standards, thus making them a bad employment risk.
False: In 1990, DuPont conducted a survey of 811 employees with disabilities and found 90 percent rated average or better in job performance compared to 95 percent for employees without disabilities.  A similar 1981 DuPont study which involved 2,745 employees with disabilities found that 92 percent of employees with disabilities rated average or better in job performance compared to 90 percent of employees without disabilities. The 1981 study results were comparable to DuPont's 1973 job performance study.


16. People with learning disabilities who can't use proper grammar are not very bright.
False: The nature of a learning disability is such that the person performs at an average to above average level in all levels of functioning except for one or two specific areas. Therefore, a person's ability to write a grammatically correct sentence is independent of their ability to create and organize thoughts.


17. People who use wheelchairs cannot work in a fast-paced, high-pressure job.
False: Ability to use a wheelchair is separate from ability to work quickly and to work under stress. Give the person ample room to maneuver their chair and let them go!


18. If a person is having an epileptic seizure you should NOT place something in their mouth to prevent them from “swallowing their tongue.”
True: It is physically impossible to “swallow” one’s tongue.  Placing something in the mouth of a person who is having a seizure can cause choking.  Don’t try to restrain the person; this might cause injury. Instead, move anything hard or sharp out of the way and place something soft and flat under the person’s head.


19. Persons with disabilities have problems with transportation.
False: Persons with disabilities are capable of arranging their own transportation: walking, biking, driving, taking public transportation, hiring a driver, or taking a cab. Just because a person has a disability doesn’t mean they can’t get around: people who are deaf drive and bike, some people who use wheelchairs drive, blind individuals can use public transportation, etc.


20. Hearing aids correct hearing impairments.
False: Only certain types of hearing losses, those due to lack of amplification, can be effectively aided. If a person's hearing loss is due to nerve damage, a hearing aid will only serve to amplify noise. In this case, a hearing aid may only help someone to hear environmental sounds such as sirens or alarms.


21. Employees with disabilities tend to do work of a higher quality than employees without disabilities.
True: In several studies, including those previously mentioned, it was found that 91% of the workers with disabilities scored average or better when compared with the general workforce. Their attendance is also better.


22. All hearing impaired people can read lips.
False: Only about 15–25% of what we say is actually visible on the lips. Therefore, someone with a hearing impairment relies on other cues such as facial expressions, body language, and residual hearing (usable hearing) in addition to reading someone’s lips—all of these cues combined are more accurately known as “speech-reading.”  Amount of usable hearing and knowledge of the English language are important variables in the process. Ability to speech-read is a skill not everyone can master and is not related to a person’s intelligence.


23. Workers with a disability are a good influence on other workers.
True: More often than not, the worker with a disability brings additional diversity into the workplace. For example: Someone who uses a wheelchair may point out ways to make physical access better for all by uncluttering walkways and offices. Someone who has a learning disability may develop a filing system based on colors in addition to words that increases efficiency and ease of use.


This material was adapted from:

Succeeding Together: People With Disabilities in the Workplace

A Curriculum for Interaction

By Terri Goldstein, M.S., CRC, Michael Winkler, M.S., and Margaret Chun, M.S.


A downloadable version of the Succeeding Together manual can be found at: