by: Jens Schlechter
When talking about disabilities, most of us think about a wheelchair or a blind person. In reality though, the spectrum of impairments is broad including minor disabilities such as arthritis in your hands, slightly impaired hearing, or temporary symptoms of depression. Some of those impairments coincide with growing older and affect a large number of people. Therefore, the majority of disabled persons have several minor impairments creating barriers to their participation in social activities and everyday life. Yet, public policy and awareness raising campaigns tend to focus on persons with one major disability.
It is important to note that barriers disabled persons face to participation in everyday life are not only physical. They also relate to attitudes. The underlying issue is the stigma affixed to having physical or mental impairments. From a young age, we’re wired to associate disabilities with something negative. In movies, for example, a disabled villain is usually contrasted with a morally upright and physically perfect hero. This particularly goes for kids’ movies and TV shows. To name but a few, Captain Hook is the bad guy in Peter Pan and Long John Silver is the cunning and opportunistic pirate with a prosthetic leg in Treasure Island. This negative image of disabled persons creates a cycle of fear. People with disabilities are avoided, leading to ignorance of the barriers they face which in turn results in exclusion and a perpetuation of the negative image.
Eventually, it all comes down to a very simple equation: Impairments + Barriers = Disability. Even though there is an interest in addressing some impairments medically, instead of exclusively focussing on fixing the person with an impairment, we should make greater efforts to remove the social and environmental barriers persons with impairments face.
In a highly interactive, enjoyable, and discussion-based session, the Disability and Equality Training taught us a great deal about being aware of obstacles to inclusion and about how to effectively reduce them.
Too often, the word inclusion is mistakenly used in equality and non-discrimination discourse, when in reality integration is what we are implementing. Simply integrating disabled persons means placing them within the same metaphorical “box” which is adapted for the majority – persons without disabilities. One major take-away from the training was that many adjustments – ranging from awareness and attitude to accessibility and communication – need to be made to the “box” in order to cater for everyone and thereby create an inclusive society
The training was a great kick-off for the diversity month and an amazing learning experience! I can only recommend all of you to make use of the opportunity to get a better understanding of why exclusion still persists and how it can be addressed. I hope there will soon be more opportunities to participate in Disability and Equality Training and that you don’t hesitate to sign up!