I am frequently asked, “What is a disability?”. The Disability Services Act (1993) defines ‘disability’ as:
- An intellectual, psychiatric, cognitive, neurological, sensory or physical impairment or a combination of those impairments;
- It is permanent or likely to be permanent;
- It may or may not be of a chronic or episodic nature; and Results in substantially reduced capacity of the person for communication, social interaction, learning or mobility and a need for continuing support services.
Imagine looking at a tree,: the growth rings of the tree are the perfect analogy to the growth of societies understanding of disabilities.
The outer rings of the tree are old and dead, but still provide support and protection. The rings in the middle have just been created, and on their own they cannot support the tree. To me, this relates to the old style methods and understanding of disabilities, and the backbone to the person-centered approach that should be delivered to each and every person.
The description of a disability appears to be defined predominantly from a perspective that these labelled conditions are a negative. One needs to challenge this perspective and question whether is it the individual with a labelled condition that has the disability, or whether it is society, by limiting the expectations of individuals.
By concentrating on what a person is unable to do, we fail to understand their genuine potential.
Each human being has the basic entitlement to be heard and listened to. Remove the label and see the spectacular creation that you have the privilege of knowing, supporting, and guiding.
Yes, communication can be hard, but imagine what it is like for the other person. One of my clients with ASD described life as being trapped in a room with two-way mirrors – he could see out, but no one could see past their own expectations to witness, or hear a person so desperately wanting to form relationships and be a functioning part of society.