What is disability?
January 12, 2011
What is disability? If you were to ask a mixed group of disabled and non-disabled people that question, the chances are that the different answers given could almost add up to the same number as those present in the room! The problem is that there are many different and often opposing ways of defining disability.
In general terms these definitions tend to fall into two basic approaches. In the traditional approach, developed mainly by non-disabled medical and social care professionals, the focus is on to what degree a person’s condition or impairment prevents them from fulfilling the roles and expectations usually carried out by so called ‘normal people’ (sic). This is how the DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) sees it.
This approach has been criticised as it tends to present disabled people in ways which are often considered negative and, as a result, increases the possibility that a disabled person could experience either discrimination or be forced to accept segregated services. The emphasis here is on disabled people’s lack of ability, caused by their condition, to ‘fit into’ the mainstream activities
Disabled people argue this approach misrepresents the facts. The alternative ‘social model’ approach has as its starting point the recognition that often having a condition or impairment does have an impact upon our lives. However, the trouble has been that this impact has often been viewed wrongly or as the individual’s own problem by those who create what is sometimes called the ‘social environment’ – these people design structures and organise activities within our communities.
If more time was spent ‘taking into account’ how the design and organisation of things affected disabled people then we might see real change. The emphasis within the social model approach is on looking at the differing ways in which people with impairments encounter what we call ‘disabling barriers’.
Disabling barriers are created when not enough attention is paid to the issues which impact on disabled people’s lives. For example, their access needs, the surroundings in which disabled people find themselves in or simply the negative attitudes people hold. Our conditions or impairments may reduce our functional ability , but more often than not, the disabling factor is external and could be reduced or removed by planning ‘disabled people in’ or if needs be, adapting the world in which we live.
– Bob Williams-Findlay
Source: republished by Miss Dennis Queen