To the Editor: Column perpetuated misconceptions of handicapped people

The July 1 guest column (Handicapped people are now seen as ‘handicapable’) perpetuates some
misconceptions that cannot go unchallenged.
After an appallingly simplistic, if not inaccurate, description of how the average person thinks, the
authors writes, "So what stops handicapped people from thinking the same way?" They do not
think differently from the non-handicapped. This all to common opinion is a stigma that people with
handicaps fight every day. Certainly physical disability does not change basic thought processes. The
vast majority of people with mental illnesses employ the same thought processes as the average person.

People with disabilities certainly must learn to function in every day life, but it is questionable that
disabilities not the result of trauma cause a person to sit down and make lists as the author states.
Aside from schizophrenia with an adolescent onset, most people with a mental illness have lived with it
for some time before diagnosis and have already begun developing ways to approach life that suit their
needs. Having a diagnosis and treatment further helps the development of skills to allow a person to
have a life like any other.
The idea that having a mental illness does not interfere with writing is not strange. The prevalence of
depression and bipolar disorder is quite high among writers (Leo Tolstoy, Charles Dickens, Art Buchwald,
Virginia Woolf, to name a very few). The idea that medication is somehow responsible for improved
writing skills, as the author believes, is strange. It is hard to believe that there are medications
with the effect of improving writing ability. Perhaps the improvement in mood allows a person to write
more easily, although quite a few writers eschew medication, believing that it decreases their
A very pernicious misconception about handicapped people and work ability is also perpetuated in this
column when the author states that "Many people with mental illness do custodial work." Many
people with mental illness work as teachers, lawyers, bankers, doctors, and all professions. The author
continues with, "Even if they can’t handle the higher thought processes of their work, they can
master what kind of work that they can do."
Mental illness does not generally affect the higher thought processes as is evidenced by the fact that
the vast majority of people with mental illnesses work full time at all manner of jobs available in
society. Some of the more prominent people who have had or have mental illness are Abraham Lincoln,
Winston Churchill, Bette Midler, Jane Pauley, Judy Collins, Mike Wallace, Drew Carey, Buzz Aldrin …
the list is endless. People with mental illnesses have jobs, families, hobbies, engage in political
debates and have spiritual lives like the rest of the population.
I’m sure the author meant to improve how society views handicapped people, but has unfortunately
perpetuated some very harmful misconceptions. The fact is that handicapped people are not so very
different from any one else.
Celia Jane