Disability needs to be defined in ways that empower the disabled and create a more egalitarian society. Although some progress has been made to define disability in ways that prevents discrimination, there is still a lot that can be done to promote equality. According to the World Health Organization (2014), "people with disabilities face barriers in accessing the health and rehabilitation services they need in many settings." Barriers need to be torn down, to ensure that all persons have equal access to services, resources, and opportunities. In order to remove all types of barriers, it is necessary to define disability. This paper will present a medical definition of disability, connect that definition to the social stigma and perceived inequality, and suggestion solutions that can be applied in the public and private sectors. The thesis of the research is that disability is defined best as being any restriction or lack, resulting from impairment, of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being.
The primary definition of disability is any restriction or lack (resulting from an impairment) of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being. This definition allows a balance between recognizing individual qualities and rights on the one hand, and requiring social justice and responsibility on the other. A definition of disability that centers on performance and function also permits an important shift in attention away from an individual's "faults" or "incapacity" toward a focus on the structures of society and the individual's relationship to those structures. As Barnes & Mercer (2010) point out, disability is a sociological issue because it is about the relationship between the disabled person and the society. This definition shifts attention away from the individual and places the responsibility on society to change, by focusing on what constitutes barriers. Barriers include social, economic, cultural, political barriers. It is crucial that a definition of disability is one that stresses the need to include disabled people in mainstream society and guarantee their civil rights (Barnes & Mercer, 2010). This definition is both sustainable and nonjudgmental.
Physical disabilities include a restriction in the ability to perform certain physical duties without the aid of technology or the assistance of another human being. Thus, disabilities inhibit independence, a significant feature of the definition. Accessibility promotes independence, and includes access to equal access to the "built environment" (Barnes & Mercer, 2010, p. 2). When disability is framed as a restriction or lack of ability to perform as would be expected for the range considered normal, the society can respond by making changes to its environment, policies, or procedures. Moreover, the Americans with Disabilities Act National Network (n.d.) defines a disability is "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity." A major life activity could be anything from entering a building to attending classes with one's peers. The goal of disability awareness and public policy is to reduce barriers or restrictions and improve life chances of the disabled. Disabilities are real, making it important to look at the core elements that would distinguish a disabled person. There is great diversity of disabilities, but they share in common features such as being a long-term, not short-term, condition. Although there are some short-term disabilities that benefit from the definition by increasing accessibility for those persons, the Social Security Administration (n.d.) defines disability as an impairment lasting for at least one year, or expected to last for at least one year.
Disabilities can be physical, developmental, or mental in nature. Mental disabilities include restrictions in the ability to perform certain types of cognitive functions. Mental disabilities are like physical disabilities in that they represent any restriction or lack (resulting from an impairment) of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being such as cognitive tasks, like reading, or math. Regardless of what type of disability a person has, the goal of disability awareness and social change is to promote independent living over segregation, provide mainstream services like welfare and rights of all persons. Disability is not about "personal troubles" or "personal failures" but about "public issues" and social responsibility (Barnes & Mercer, 2010). Likewise, this definition mandates the society evaluate its own virtues and respond to its citizens and ensuring rights. This definition is also culturally appropriate and applicable in multiple scenarios.
Furthermore, this definition is broad, and allows it to be applied to multiple types of disability including developmental and learning disabilities. Any person who does not function within the range deemed normative can be defined as disabled. This means that people who do not fall within the range of cognitive processing or in physical mobility are disabled. Using a sociological model, the emphasis is on the experience of "collective social disadvantage" experienced by the disabled and not on individual problems (Barnes & Mercer, 2010, p. 4). Obviously, the disability itself is one that is experienced by the individual, but the responses to disability are what matter most. The goal is to eliminate discrimination and promote equality.
This definition can be applied to schools, places of employment, and other social situations. As Barnes & Mercer (2010) point out, disabled people of all ages, races, and genders may experience exclusion from the workplace, from public parks, or from schools. These social institutions should not be able to discriminate against anyone. Because disability is defined as the lack of ability to perform any activity in the manner deemed natural by the majority population, institutions are required to respond. This means that schools, places of employment, and public institutions can respond accordingly to the needs of their citizens, regardless of what type of disability they may have.
There are several ways this definition explains disability within society. For one, this definition explains disability as a reality, without denying that there is a difference between the disabled and those who are not disabled. The disabled are by definition unable, for physical or cognitive reasons, to perform certain tasks, do certain things, or access certain physical spaces. As the World Health Organization (2014) puts it, "a complex phenomenon, reflecting the interaction between features of a person's body and features of the society in which he or she lives." From this realistic and grounded approach, it becomes possible to create desirable changes.
Second, his definition presumes that even when people are disabled, they have the same rights as those who are not disabled. This is one of the most important features of this definition. Rights include the right to privacy, the right to equal protection, and the right to access social services equally. There are already laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act that protect the disabled from discrimination (ADA National Network, n.d.). This definition expands the concept of rights to include not just active or direct discrimination against someone, but the more subtle types of discrimination that manifest in social, political, and other barriers (Barnes & Mercer, 2010). Although it may not be possible to legislate against all types of discrimination in private organizations, this definition does help change the social norms surrounding disabilities.
Furthermore, this definition opens up the possibility for social and political change, by showing that businesses, organizations, and legal institutions can make accommodations to help the disabled. Some of these accommodations may be enforceable by local, state, or federal laws. In Wales, the Equality Act of 2010 "changes what has to be done in order to prevent and address disability discrimination and disability-related harassment when goods, facilities and services are provided to the public." Laws like these ensure that structural barriers are eliminated and that disabled persons have equal rights.
Persons with disabilities experience different types of inequity including structural inequity, by not having access to promotions and certain types of jobs or not having access to the same learning opportunities as other students. As Barnes & Mercer (2010) points out, structural inequity is not the same as direct discrimination. Structural inequity is often more invisible but more systematic in that it leads to problems like the high unemployment rates among disabled persons. A forward-thinking social policy ensures that structural barriers are removed.
Persons with disabilities experience inequality through social stigma, teasing, and bullying. These are the more direct forms of discrimination. Direct discrimination may manifest as differential treatment, or as outright harassment. Barnes & Mercer (2010) claim that direct discrimination is a manifestation of patterns of social control. Akin…
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