The struggle of those who suffer from one of the many forms of facial paralysis is uniquely difficult. Individuals who encounter them often make the standard first impressions that they would for anyone, basing their assumptions on a face which they may or may not be able to tell has a disability. And even if they do, they don’t know what the disability is. This can cause subtle and not-so-subtle alienation. OSU researchers have recently focused their efforts on this problem.
“We wanted to see what we could do to change that, and we found that education is a powerful tool,”said Kathleen Bogart in a press release. She’s the director of the Disability and Social Interaction Lab at OSU, where the research was conducted.
Basically, they found that teaching people about facial paralysis and its different causes makes people think more about their interactions and have a more open mind. This may seem like obvious advice for almost any situation, but facial paralysis is a unique situation where education might not even come into people’s radar. They might assume it’s rarer than it is, or not even be aware of its existence despite its relatively common occurrence. When combined with the potentially career-damaging and socially stigmatic repercussions of constantly bad first impressions, this research is potentially groundbreaking.
They predict it will be particularly useful for occupational training in fields that deal with a lot of person-to-person interactions, like healthcare. If healthcare providers can learn to rely on other communication modes, and not take their cues strictly from faces, they may find themselves more helpful and empathetic to sufferers.
Bogart is herself a sufferer of partial facial paralysis, so this is an issue close to her heart. She designed the study to measure people’s reactions to faces with paralysis both after having received education about the condition and not.
“We found that awareness and education efforts are effective in reducing stigma related to rare disabilities such as facial paralysis,” said Bogart in the press release.