Just what counts as having a disability these days anyway?


Could having health conditions such as arthritis, a ‘bad back’ or having undergone any form of reconstructive surgery such as hip or knee replacement, or having bones repaired with the use of rods and pins, now qualify a person as being disabled, even after the wounds have healed, the pain reduced or full functioning has returned?

In the minds of some the answer to this question is a resounding yes. But I’m far from convinced this should be so.

Over the last few decades the ways in which we discuss ‘disability’ has changed greatly. As a consequence of this two major changes have occurred.

Firstly, many conditions that were previously understood purely as health conditions, have now been labelled disabling conditions.

Secondly, this shift in emphasis towards labelling health conditions as disabling has led to greater levels of awareness, access, understanding and acceptance for some forms of disabilities but not others.

So I question whether or not, in the rush to create awareness and embrace or champion the rights of those with disabilities, a few too many of the hard and inviolable truths of living life with non physical disabilities have been all too quickly wallpapered over.

Instead of fixing the hardships that so many face, these new redefinitions of what is and is not a disability, have merely succeeded in replacing the decor of society by creating new and more palatable concepts of what a disability is or ought to be considered to be.

With the concept of disability once again being viewed through the lens of a physical condition that can be medically helped or cured, (such as ‘bad backs’, pinned arms and legs, new hips and knees, electronic ears), or at the very least, successfully catered for with the introduction of technology, wheel chair ramps, rails, traffic lights that beep and specialized services for the hard of hearing, more and more people who experience other forms of disability are becoming further marginalized.

If we fall for the concept that all it takes for a person to be considered disabled is the existence of any physical condition, either temporary or permanent, that’s viewed as disabling in any way, including old age, then we may also fall back into the dark days of ignoring all those who experience the so-called ‘invisible’ disabilities (intellectual or cognitive delays or differences, autism).

People with intellectual disabilities or cognitive differences may once again find themselves being pushed further and further back down the conga line of help, awareness and support.

Thereby undoing decades of activism.

It seems to me that by including the term ‘disabling’ to conditions which were previously recognized as ‘health conditions’, ‘illnesses’ or ‘age related conditions’, the powers that be are once again re-framing disability as a purely physical experience/condition that can only be medically understood and cured.

And we all know how well defining disability by applying a purely medical paradigm to it worked out last time.

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One thought on “Just what counts as having a disability these days anyway?

  1. On the other hand, my Aspie daughter was recently told that she could not receive accommodations (extra time, a quiet room, help filling in the bubble sheet) on the college entrance exam (ACT) because Autism Spectrum Disorders, by themselves, “don’t count as disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act.” Go figure.

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