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Societal Attitudes to Disability   Return to Disability Theme page

3. Additional Information:

Our reactions to people with disabilities or handicaps reflect our attitudes, which are influenced by our culture, education and so forth.  These are social facts, not merely individual choices.

So, how does society approach disability? The definition of handicap refers both to the person and to the environment in which she or he lives, so increasingly we recognize the relevance of modifying society to fit the person with a disability.  Consider the following wry commentary on some disability questions drawn from a British health survey:

Original Question Alternative perspective
Can you tell me what is wrong with you? Can you tell me what is wrong with society?
What complaint causes your difficulty in holding, grasping, gripping or turning things? What defects in the design of everyday equipment like jars, bottles and cans causes you difficulty in holding, gripping or turning them?
Are your difficulties in understanding people mainly due to a hearing problem? Are your difficulties in understanding people mainly due to their inabilities to communicate with you?
Do you have a scar, blemish or deformity that limits your daily activities? Do other people's reactions to any scar, blemish or deformity you may have, limit your daily activities?
Have you attended a special school because of a long-term health problem or disability? Have you attended a special school because of your education authority's policy of sending people with your health problem or disability to such places?
Does your health problem or disability mean that you need to live with relatives or someone else who can help look after you? Are community services so poor that you need to rely on relatives or someone else to provide you with the right level of personal assistance?
How difficult is it for you to get about your immediate neighbourhood on your own? What are the environmental constraints which make it difficult for you to get about in your immediate neighbourhood?
Does your health problem or disability make it difficult for you to travel by bus? Do poorly-designed buses make it difficult for someone with your health problem or disability to use them?
Does your health problem or disability affect your work in any way? Do you have problems at work because of the physical environment or the attitudes of others?

Think this is merely humorous?  In Ontario the Safe Schools law aims to deter kids from bringing firearms and drugs to school.  An unfortunate side-effect of this law is that children with conditions such as Tourette's or autism that may lead them to behave in unpredictable or aggressive ways are getting suspended (as is required by the Safe Schools law) as a result of their medical condition.  Clearly it is very difficult to protect the majority while also being flexible for genuine exceptions.

An Example of Resiliency that Challenges our Attitudes
Aimee Mullins is an exceptional athlete who had bilateral below-knee amputations during infancy. She has always used prostheses, and went on to compete against able-bodied athletes in university and to compete in the Paralympics. (Paralympics are for people with physical disabilities; Special Olympics are for people with mental impairments).  Over time, Aimee has turned her disability on its head, and you will see from her talk how she has seized the opportunity to go in new directions with a wide range of artificial limbs.

Links

The Ottawa Disabled Persons Community Resources centre produces a guide to services for disabled persons