Personal Perspective on Disability

Overview

My personal perspective on disability is that an individual bearing a disability is a survivor. Disability is part of the human condition, and approximately every person might be permanently or temporarily impaired, especially for those who will live to old age. In the current times, disability has transitioned to a social perspective rather than an individual medical perspective. Hence, it implies that individuals are regarded as disabled by society and not by their real status (World Health Organization, n.d). This statement by the World Health Organization (WHO) has been a major influence on my thinking. It has changed my understanding regarding disability and revealed that it is not a physical status of a student, but a social status since the term is determined by the society and not by the medical status of the student.  Besides, Navratilova Martina explains the idea that disability is more of a social issue than physical through a quote: “Disability is a matter of perception. If you can do just one thing well, you’re needed by someone.” Therefore, this quote captures the idea of my thinking and influences my perspective on teaching and counseling students with disabilities and my relationship with parents, co-workers, and students who bear some disability. The quote communicates the idea that every individual in society and school, whether disabled or not, has unique potential and a part to play in society. Therefore, I have a responsibility to identify all students’ potential in schools and nurture them to live up to it.  Therefore, I subscribe to the social model of disability by Wasserman et al. (2016), which holds that the social and physical environment are the main sources of disadvantages and limitations facing people living with disabilities.

Disability is a common term for activity limitations, impairments, and restrictions on participation. The aspect refers to a negative interaction between a person with a health condition and a person’s contextual element, such as personal and environmental factors. Hence, disability comes from relations of individuals with impairment and environmental and attitudinal barriers, which prevent effective and full participation within the society at the same level with other people (World Health Organization, n.d). In essence, it implies that disability cannot be termed as a personal characteristic. Therefore, it is not accurate to label a student as disabled by looking at only the characteristic of the student, since disability goes beyond physical characteristics.

Similar to any other person alive, people with disabilities are different depending on age, gender, socioeconomic status, sexuality, cultural heritage, and ethnicity. Every individual has his or her unique responses and preference to individuals with disabilities. Moreover, disability relates to disadvantages, meaning that not all disabled people are disadvantaged equally (World Health Organization, n.d). For instance, a woman with a disability may face disadvantages related to gender in conjunction with the disability itself. This article answers questions regarding issues of diversity in society and among students in schools. It reveals that students with disability bear different levels of individuality. Hence it is important to treat them individually rather than a group.

This report categorizes my perspective of disability into three areas, the language used, the role of media in advocacy, and the role of the society. The report highlights how the three elements will likely affect my work and relationship with students with disabilities in school. Finally, the report concludes by presenting the meaning of my perspective as I prepare to work with children and achieve the KEEPS mission.

Disability and Language

Language has authority to characterize groups, since words used to define individuals are important and have self-perception ramifications. In addition, they play an important role in influencing the beliefs of the public about individuals (Haller, 2010). Hence, the language used in the context of disability shapes the understanding of the public on disability condition.

Language is vital in reflecting the attitudes of society, which are important in influencing experiences of individuals with disabilities, especially in the formative periods. Notably, language reflects people’s outlook on each other. Hence, it implies that language can easily perpetuate discrimination and that the verbal surrounding of students with disabilities in schools or classrooms can be transformative. For instance, medically, disability is often referred to as “impairment,” which identifies students based on deficiencies, hence minimizing their strengths and creating barriers for them. On the other hand, in social settings, impairment is viewed as socially constructed and leads to exclusion and oppression from participating fully in social activities (Back et al., 2016). Hence, this explains the claim that people are not disabled by their bodies but by society.

Language is significant in offering a forum to understand and construct reality and can assist me in being responsible for including people, especially students with disabilities. Unfortunately, the language used in referring to people with disabilities, especially in schools, keeps them marginalized and is likely to portray them derogatorily. Some of the words that have been found beneficial in schools include referring the disabled as “inclusion students,” which is more general and does not view disability through connotation (Back et al., 2016). This terminology emphasizes on sameness, which is important in a school setting. This means that the language used in referring to students with disability in schools can lead to stigmatization and discrimination. Therefore, the article helps me in promoting the inclusion of students with disability in class activities. It assists me in identifying student’s potential of all students in a class, irrespective of their medical condition, and hence customizing classwork to ensure that all students feel involved in the daily classroom activities as they look beyond the medical differences.

Media and Disability

Media is a form of communication such as radio, internet, television, newspapers and other written materials used to transmit information from a particular source. One of the main uses of media is to support the viewpoint of certain people, such as people living with a disability. Media is significant in shifting focus from a personal to social perspective to influence the behavior of people. Therefore, the media has a social role in advocating for appropriate and equitable services for people living with disabilities.

How media portrays individuals with disabilities impacts how they are viewed in society. In many cases, there are only a few specific programs and documentaries about people with disabilities and rarely do they appear in mainstream programs. In cases where they appear, they face stigma and stereotypes; hence, they appear as superheroes and objects of pity (International Labor Organization, n.d). Therefore, efforts to include individuals with disabilities in regular programs on radio and television could assist in offering balanced and fair representation and counter stereotypes that perpetuate negative perceptions. More so, it is important to portray an individual living with a disability with respect and dignity. Thus, this will help raise inclusion and tolerance in societies.

Images and stories from media affect thinking and create social norms within the society. Over the years, individuals with disabilities have experienced defamation, misrepresentation, and under-representation within the media entertainment and news (Ziemer, n.d). Therefore, it is imperative for media to understand its role in advocating for equitable and appropriate participation of people living with disabilities within the society and schools.

Society and Disability

A significant change in society in the past 40 to 50 years is evident regarding treating individuals with disabilities. Before the 20th century, the outlook of persons with disabilities was deviant, defective, and unhealthy. For centuries, society has viewed people with disabilities as objects of pity and fear. They were regarded incapable of contributing to society and fully relied on charity. In fact, in the 1800s, most people with disabilities stayed home, and their life expectancy was short. However, over time, legislative changes have greatly influenced the attitudes of society towards individuals with disabilities. For instance, terminologies used to refer to people with disabilities have changed. Old terms, such as moron, imbecile and idiot, have changed to differently abled persons (“Society’s Attitude,” 2018). This indicates that society is changing, and individuals realize their responsibility to change their outlook towards people with disabilities.

Students with disabilities are likely to undergo discrimination that leads to exclusion from school and society. This challenge is made worse by the attitudes of other children towards those with disabilities and insufficient resources to maintain them in mainstream schools. Moreover, in various instances school systems fail to promote fair education for students with disabilities (UNICEF, 2012). Hence, it is important for education systems to enhance inclusive and accessible physical learning spaces, including proper sanitation. Besides, education management needs to invest in training teachers towards inclusive education to ensure that they adopt teaching practices that are appropriate for all students. Hence, the approach will ensure all students can access an equitable education.

Conclusion

This reflection has been beneficial to me in understanding and transforming my ideologies and beliefs according to the KEEPS mission. It has enhanced my understanding and beliefs in the potential of all students, irrespective of their medical conditions. Besides, it has illuminated knowledge that even students with disability have differences, just like any other student, bringing in the diversity perspective. The articles reviewed showed that people living with a disability differ in terms of age, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, cultural heritage, and ethnicity, among others. This implies that every student has unique characteristic and no two students are alike.

This realization has made me understand that students with disabilities undergo several types of exclusion, which limit their participation in the school and society. Many lack support in schools, which is caused by either ignorance of teachers or inadequate resources. Hence, adequate training and advocacy are required to ensure that teachers, guardians, and society change their view towards persons with disabilities and recognize that every individual is disabled in one way or another. They need to live by Navratilova’s quote, which highlights the significance of every individual in the society, whether visibly disabled or not.

 

References

Back, L., Keys, C., Mahon, S. & O’Neil, K. (2016). How we label students with disabilities: A framework of language use in urban school district in the United States. Disabilities Studies Quarterly, 36 (4). doi.org/10.18061/dsq.v36i4

Haller, B. (2010). Representing disability in an albeit world: Essay of mass media. Louisville: KY.

International Labor Organization (n.d). Media guidelines for portrayal of disability. International Labor Office, 1-35. Retrieved from https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@ed_emp/@ifp_skills/documents/publication/wcms_127002~2.pdf

Society’s Attitude Toward People with Disabilities. (2018). Retrieved from https://paul-burtner.dental.ufl.edu/oral-health-care-for-persons-with-disabilities/societys-attitude-toward-people-with-disabilities/

UNICEF (2012). Education. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/disabilities/index_65316.html

Wasserman, D., Asch, A., Blustein, J., & Putnam, D. (2016). Disability: Health, well-being, and personal relationships. Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2016/entries/disability-health/>.

World Health Organization (n.d). Understanding disability. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/disabilities/world_report/2011/chapter1.pdf

Ziemer, N. (n.d) Media and disability. Retrieved from https://dredf.org/media-disability/

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