Breaking the 7 Second Barrier

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Breaking the 7 Second Barrier 

We like to think that our assessment of other people is based on the content of our interactions, conversations and other obvious behaviours. Research tells us that we make a judgement about a person within 7 seconds of meeting them. A series of experiments by Princeton psychologists revealed that all it takes is a tenth of a second to form an impression of a stranger from their face alone.

Our brains are hardwired to make automatic judgements about other people, but rely too much on superficial features over actual information, which can lead to biased and stereotypical perceptions.

It may surprise you to look around and consider that here in Nova Scotia, one in five people self identify with a disability. Today, there are more than 1.3 billion people living in the world with some form of a disability. It may not surprise you to consider that people living with disabilities face physical, social, economic, and attitudinal barriers to being fully engaged in their communities.The attitudinal barrier can be the most difficult, as it reduces people to what they can’t do instead of recognizing what they can.

The key to changing our automatic reactions is to fight against our 7 second brain response by bringing more awareness to our interactions with other people. Take the time to learn about someone before jumping to conclusions about their personality or capabilities.

Many people are afraid that they will “do or say the wrong thing” around a person with a disability. That can make them nervous or uncomfortable. If this happens to you, think “person” and look past the disability.

The most painful experience for a person with a disability is being ignored.

Extend common courtesies to people with disabilities as you would anyone else; This includes things like shaking hands, making eye contact, talking directly to the person rather than through his or her companion, etc. Show some genuine interest and compassion.

  • Listen. Do not make assumptions about what that person can or cannot do. Ask questions.

  • Clarify. If someone has a speech impairment and you are having trouble understanding what he or she is saying, ask the person to repeat rather than pretend to understand. The former is respectful and leads to accurate communication; the latter is belittling and leads to embarrassment.

  • Offer assistance to a person with a disability, but wait until your offer is accepted before you help.  

  • Most of all, never question the reality or honesty of a person with an invisible ailment. Treat them with respect, and understand that just because you can’t see their struggles, doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

It’s simple really...treat others as you’d like to be treated. Mutual respect. At the end of the day, this is the only tip we all need to remember. 

How others perceive us and how we perceive ourselves is closely linked. Constantly told we can’t do something, we eventually come to believe it.

reachAbility offers supportive and accessible programs where people are accepted for who they are. We aim to provide them with the tools to learn about who they are and what they can accomplish, to equalize the playing field for all our citizens.

The ME Project is a photographic art installation based on the idea that every person is so much more than they appear. It challenges both artist and viewer to look beyond ‘face value’ to discover their many and diverse skills, qualities, and interests.

Please come to the show opening and interactive arts workshop from 1-3 pm, Sunday June 1. Communities Culture & Heritage Minister, Leo Glavine will be in attendance to welcome everyone, and  ASL interpretation will be provided.

On display at, and in partnership with the Zatzman Sportsplex in Dartmouth  from June 2-30