disability

Understanding Disability (1)

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Here’s something I have written before, and I will no doubt come back to and reflect on. It has been published in similar form as part of several public documents, and is here for you to draw on (see ‘Share This’ below) and discuss.

Disability combines personal experience and social process. It is the interaction between how the world functions and how people function.

Traditionally disability was seen as an individualised “health problem”, a matter of personal tragedy and neediness for the attention of medical and welfare authorities. By contrast, a modern understanding of disability also views it as a social process, much like poverty.

Aspects of our personal function used to be called “disabilities” and are now called “impairments”.

An impairment is an ongoing reduction, absence or socially-devalued difference of personal function. Impairment means a person may have difficulty doing some things in their daily life, like moving around, hearing, learning or socialising.

Those difficulties are often reduced by doing things differently or using forms of support including equipment and human services. Most disabled people are impaired in only certain aspects of daily living, and have other personal strengths.

Impairment is usually not something that can be “treated” or “cured” through health services, although rehabilitation services may be helpful for some people.

Impairment comes about in many ways, including birth, illness, accident and ageing – and it has always been a normal part of human life.

However, social attitudes play a large part. People function differently, but some differences tend to be socially valued, such as the abnormal physical function of athletes, while others are not valued, like using methods of communication other than speech. Human rights models are one way to understand that.

Impairment does not ’cause’ disability – any more than race causes racism.

A high degree of impairment (such as total blindness) does not necessarily correlate with a high degree of disability across different settings (like work, home, transport, communication, civic participation).

Disability is experienced when a person with impairments interacts with settings that have not anticipated diverse needs.

People are resourceful and adaptable, but there are limits to our ability to influence our surroundings. Often those most affected by barriers are least able to remove them.

Rather than seeking to “fix” people, it makes more sense to design and manage all settings so that they meet everyone’s needs, and to remove barriers that prevent people being able to contribute and participate on a fair footing.

This approach is reflected throughout the New Zealand Disability Strategy (2001) and in the New Zealand-influenced United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (2006).

The Convention’s Preamble says:

“…disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”

The New Zealand Disability Strategy puts it like this:

“Disability is the process which happens when one group of people create barriers by designing a world only for their way of living, taking no account of the impairments other people have. Our society is built in a way that assumes that we can all move quickly from one side of the road to the other; that we can all see signs, read directions, hear announcements, reach buttons, have the strength to open heavy doors and have stable moods and perceptions.”

I’m interested in hearing how you understand and explain disability.

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A worldwide Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License applies to this post, though quoted or linked material may be licensed separately. To raise any concerns over rights, please contact me right away. Please attribute content to Sacha Dylan and link back to http://sachadylan.com.

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Understanding Disability (1)

Delicate wispy dandelion flower head against a pale background.
disability

Because We’re Worth It

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I am disabled. Here’s some of what I have realised over the last decade about that. I have been privileged to work with wise and committed colleagues and peers and I acknowledge all they taught me. Not coming from a background in disability policy, services or activism allowed me to add a different perspective.

Disability is what happens when your needs don’t match the world as it is right now. It’s that simple, and that complex.

Disability combines personal experience and social process. It is the interaction between how the world functions and how people function.

It’s way too easy to focus only on the individual, rather than what surrounds them, constrains them, enables them. We each have our own stories, but there are also bigger forces at play. Most of that is missing from educational and media coverage.

Nothing special

Impairment of our abilities is natural, and much just comes with age. Our walk and memory might falter, our senses become less sharp, even as our wisdom deepens(if we’re lucky). Some of us were born this way. Or our lives changed through illness or accident.

It’s mostly not something to be ‘prevented’ or ‘rehabilitated’. Disabled people have always been part of human history and despite the fantasies of eugenicists we always will be.

Adjusting

Society’s understanding about disability continues to evolve — yet it is consistently reported by disabled people as our single greatest barrier to work around. Other barriers occur when our needs aren’t taken into account.

People do whatever they can to adapt to their surroundings. We’ve all done it or seen it. But there are limits. It’s hard to magic-up smooth footpaths, larger print, or respectful service at the moment you need them. Taking your own wheelchair ramp or interpreter everywhere (just in case) isn’t practical. Putting up with poor assumptions and constantly being an unpaid teacher about disability is draining. Our parents and siblings and friends can experience that too.

Investing

Some needs are provided for without question because we’ve always done it, or society quietly regards them as ‘normal’, or because the ‘right’ sort of people are involved. For instance, senior business executives get dedicated personal support people but we ration those for disabled students. Making your own travel bookings is somehow a worse fate than missing the same chance at an education as your peers.

Some abnormalities are also irrationally applauded. Even though we no longer regularly run from savage predators, being freakishly fast can get you a medal. Being able to communicate with New Zealand’s rarest official language, not so much. Nothing fair or sensible about it. You can see why many disability activists take a human rights approach.

Seeds of change

Rather than trying to cure or ‘fix’ each person, let’s just make sure the settings we share work for everyone. Then we can all live to our potential and play our part in our families, our society and our economy. Our world faces some great challenges that require cunning, cooperation and tenacity to overcome. Disabled people offer all of that, hard-won from daily experience. We are also your neighbours, your family, your future. Fellow citizens. Fellow humans.

What we each bring is worth adjusting for, like we do for others – without challenge, without pity and without begging.

This post is also at Public Address’s new Access blog. Proud to be part of it.

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A worldwide Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License applies to this post, except where other arrangements are noted for specific content in it such as photographs*. To raise any concerns over rights, please contact me right away.

* Dandelion photo © 2014 Nora Leggs. source

Please attribute other content to Sacha Dylan and link back to http://sachadylan.com.

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Kia ora

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Welcome to my blog. My interests are wide and it may take some time to write about all of them. You can expect posts about: cities (urban design, transport, etc), design, disability, eHealth, enterprise (both business and social), our environment, health policy, leading, music, New Zealand politics (#nzpol), science, screenculture, technology,  and the delights that bring joy to life.

We’ll start with some items about disability that will be cross-posted from now onwards over at Public Address’s new Access blog. Proud to be part of it.

Great to have you along, and please do spread the word.

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A worldwide Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License applies to this post. Please attribute content to Sacha Dylan and link back to http://sachadylan.com.

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http://sachadylan.com/kia-ora/