Traumatic Brain Injury and Cultural Diversity

Tracey Landmann, a traumatic brain injury survivor, advocates greater respect and recognition for the individual differences presented by persons living with traumatic brain injury.

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People generally like to organize things, including other people. We construct figurative containers and compartments, and then sort through the chaos of the planet’s population, often negatively judging those who do not share in our own culture’s belief system. We frown on people we view as incapable, unethical, or irrational, doing so even when we are only familiar with stereotypes about these individuals. Even the simplest deviations become suspect.

Lately, there has been an energized effort to rectify this lack of acceptance. For example, corporate/medical/societal Cultural Diversity Training programs are increasing. These programs aim to educate people as to the value of everyone in the office, to inspire people to work better with each other, and to avoid lawsuits. That any effort is being made to broaden compassion anywhere is encouraging. But this kind of training is, at best, just a beginning towards achieving greater tolerance and respect for diversity and difference.

Bosnian Renaissance by Tracey Landmann

Bosnian Renaissance by Tracey Landmann

Acknowledging cultural diversity is intimidating enough; relating to the human elements within ‘other’ cultures can sometimes be downright frightening. Doing this for the medically labelled community of traumatically brain injured survivors can be especially challenging. Even medical professionals, who are supposed to be well-versed in traumatic brain injury, seldom take the individual into account. They affix a label to the disability alone and ignore the complexity that makes up the individual’s life behind it.

Survivors of traumatic brain injury might do a lot of things you don’t understand, or they might ‘fail’ to do some things you take for granted. As a result, you might find yourself unable to compartmentalize this person: often no defects are apparent, yet sometimes the person might appear to you to be so ‘stupid’. Or absent-minded. Or angry. Or impatient, stressed-out, emotional, exhausted… Knowing how to react properly to this erratic behavior is hardly ever going to be dealt with in the official Cultural Diversity training course material, so we need to rely on our own, honest analysis. Social cues are not enough.

If Cultural Diversity training does include information about persons with physical or mental disability, it often does not include information about of survivors of traumatic brain injury. Although traumatic brain injury affects survivors differently, the functional differences for persons living with traumatic brain injuries are often invisible, seemingly random, and may change according to the situation.

The majority of higher functioning traumatic brain injury survivors have no outside indicators to alert people to their disability. This causes some major problems. Unless the survivor is wearing a T-shirt that clearly states his or her disability status, relative strangers would have no idea of his or her ‘difference’ and the consequences that have arisen because of it. And so, they would not see the need to perhaps adjust their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours.

Traumatic brain injury comes in a variety of colours. It does not discriminate on the basis of gender, religion, sexual orientation, language, economic status, or culture. If an object strikes the head of anyone with enough impact, a brain injury will ensue. The severity and ramifications of the brain injury will depend on the level of impact, how quickly and accurately the injury can be specifically diagnosed and treated, and just where the head was struck.

I’m not campaigning for traumatic brain injury-specific Cultural Diversity Training. For one thing, traumatic brain injury survivors do not make up a culture. Instead, we are members of several cultures, and we are only just beginning to rise above our categorical stigma; to recognize our own strength as a social group. For another, the diversity across traumatic brain injury survivors is so extreme that almost any representative fictional scenarios hold very little educational potential. A person – a society – is only going to learn to accept a survivor of traumatic brain injury if he or she, with guidance, evaluates the sources of his or her relevant attitudes and beliefs where those are based on stereotypes or prejudice.

In general, we need to stop ascribing different cultures to separate containers. We must also stop relegating “abnormal” members within cultures, including our own culture, to sealed compartments within our isolating boxes. This is my hope for instilling greater respect and recognition for the individual differences presented by persons living with traumatic brain injury.

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Tracey Landmann is an advocate for traumatic brain injury awareness and speaks on the benefits of art and creativity for cognitive development. She is the author of the Creative Progress blog and a former board member of, and editor/writer for the Brain Injury Association of Delaware.