Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Disability: An experiment in cool thought

Now, in these rather bleak post-Olympic and Paralympic days, when we realize that the emotions we have all felt are to be replaced by a grimmer set of realities, it's perhaps time to reflect on some less than worthy thoughts I have heard expressed, especially regarding the paralympians.

One thought in particular strikes me as especially unpleasant and difficult to deal with. I have heard people say, "I certainly can't run a hundred metres in eleven or so seconds. Yet these so-called disabled people can. So who are the disabled? Why should my taxes be spent on benefits for them? Where's the logic here?!"

Let's for a moment set aside the politics of this and see if we can approach these questions from another point of view. A cooler, more logical approach may help to reconcile these seeming contradictions and inequities, while justifying the continued state support of people with disabilities. For, make no mistake, continued state support requires that we convince the "able-bodied" taxpayer that it is justified and that it is fair.

Firstly let's agree that Paralympic competition is something which is seen every four years and is not part of everyday living (though of course for the athletes, the training and preparation are part of their everyday lives; but only part).

Next let us acknowledge a clear truth: we all have talents and we all have weaknesses. We are all on a spectrum of ability and disability (in the widest senses of the words). For example, I wonder how many of you reading this post need glasses to see it. Visual impairment is a remarkably widespread purely physical impairment - or disability if you like - so is a good example around which to build my argument. Perhaps, even if you need glasses, you may not think you are disabled. After all, glasses & contacts are so common, and can even be fashion statements and designer status symbols. But stop to think. If your sight was not corrected by these aids, what could you no longer do? I, for example, couldn't drive, read nor write. I couldn't do my present job, except in the most limited way. I couldn't enjoy my favourite pastimes, nor even pursue them anymore. Sounds like a disability, doesn't it? But I don't go around thinking I am "disabled" much less lamenting my impairment. That would be plain weird. I'm just very grateful that there's a solution.

So I feel we should remember this when we think about "benefits for the disabled". Though glasses are a shocking price, we who wear them, "benefit" from them. You can probably think of other common examples where impairments or weaknesses are helped and corrected, while not being normally considered "official list" disabilities. Many helped with state support, either wholly or partly.

A more ethical and logical approach to thinking about disability, it seems to me, is to remember the old principle which, if applied, is good for everyone: maximise talents and manage around weaknesses. This principle does away with the binary classification of abled/disabled and allows for more nuanced solutions. It also allows us to think about people as a valuable and fascinating mixture, and each one unique.

And every one of us deserving of both support and development.

No comments:

Post a Comment