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Disability Theory and Concepts

People with disabilities deviate from social expectations, they are undesirably different. What is meant by a disability and how it is differentiated from a non-disability depends on the prevailing social system of norms and values. What is considered healthy or normal is what is seen in a society as particularly important for its continued existence. These dominant values determine our attitudes and behavior. To a large extent, these are also shaped by the media. (BampiI, GuilhemII, & Alves, 2010)

In the present work I would like to deal with the topic “People with disabilities in society”. I would like to find answers to the following questions: What attitudes and behavior towards people with disabilities exist and what influences them? What options are there to change this? How are disabled people portrayed in the media?

First, I will define some basic terms that are important for the job. In the following, I will deal with attitudes and behavior towards people with disabilities and talk about the factors on which attitudes and behavior are dependent. Then I will address the question of what possibilities there are to change this in a positive way. This is followed by the representation of disabled people in children's and youth literature, whereby the general aspect of the media is only touched upon briefly. (Horyzonty, 2016)

A definition of disability that is often quoted is that of the World Health Organization (WHO). It divides the term into the following three levels: Damage (impairment) to organs or functions of humans; Impairment (disability) of humans, which include a function and activity restriction as well as the disadvantage (handicap) of humans. Because of damage and impairment, there are disadvantages in the physical and psychosocial field in family, professional and social aspects. (WHO, n.d.)

Whether a health impairment turns into a disability depends heavily on the environment and the social situation of a person. Because values and norms of a society determine when a behavior or a physical characteristic deviates from "normality". The explanations of how such a discrepancy comes about also differ from culture to culture and have consequences for dealing with disabled people.

The understanding of disability and the life and participation opportunities of people with certain characteristics vary not only between different cultures, but also within cultures. Among other things, the age and gender of the respective person and the time at which the disability occurred play a role. The social position and structure of the family as well as their financial situation also have a strong impact. Both of these have a major impact on how a person with a disability can be supported and the importance of a family member's disability for the entire family. This is particularly evident when it comes to allocating financial or human resources to treating, supporting, or caring for a family member. (BampiI, GuilhemII, & Alves, 2010)

Impairment and disability cause confusion in everyone. In the extended family, this can provoke emotions as strong as those felt by the parents themselves.

In the case of genetic diseases, the announcement may also raise questions or concerns in other family members.

The reactions of relatives vary greatly from one person or from one family to another. Some will tell you reassuring words that will deny reality, others will be clumsy, have hesitant gestures, or heavy glances. Those from whom you have hoped for support and comfort may feel unable to cope with your pain - they themselves feel it very strongly. They may be tempted to run away from it and thus get away from you. On the other hand, some people will react in a natural, spontaneously welcoming way, and will be of irreplaceable support.

The great emotional load associated with the announcement can make you very sensitive to reactions and make those around you very awkward. This can leave lasting traces in relationships and sometimes it will take time to restore them.

In the past, the definitions of handicap and handicapped were statistical and even static. In the 1950s, for example, the disabled child was described as "the child entering life with a delay compared to normal children of the same real age as him". In France, the law of 23 November 1957 considers a disabled worker "any person whose possibilities of acquiring or keeping a job are effectively reduced as a result of an insufficiency or a reduction in his physical or mental capacities". Until then, it was a question of counting the number of individuals who, because of specific characteristics, did not correspond to the majority norm. (Rachid, 2018)

 In short, it is the individual who alone carried the weight of the handicap. Nowadays, rather, the emphasis seems to be on environmental determinants. For example, many individuals have to face risks that can result in impairment and incapacity: low birth weight, dangerous working conditions, job insecurity, unsuitable work environment, poor family context and sometimes violent, poor socialization at school, etc., without forgetting the fluctuation of the field of "normal / functional" which, nowadays, tends to shrink and to throw in the margin more and more people judged non-performing.

 And so, we arrive at the social construction of disability. From this new perspective, what is disability? According to the WHO individuals must face risks that can result in impairment and disability: low birth weight, dangerous working conditions, job insecurity, unsuitable working environment, poor family context and sometimes violent, poor socialization at school, etc., without forgetting the fluctuating play of the “normal / functional” field which, nowadays, tends to shrink and to sideline more and more people judged to be inefficient. (WHO, n.d.)

Disability therefore does not express a status. It refers to the particular social dynamic caused by the obstacles to reintegration that a society creates and which prevents individuals from fulfilling any role. Fougeyrollas also defines disability as a situation determined by "social, cultural, economic and environmental obstacles linked to mentalities, the organization of services and legislation. ". In other words, disability synthesizes the exclusion mechanisms that block the social reintegration of marginalized people. (Tom Shakespeare, 2002)

It results from the gap between society's expectations of the social roles of people with disabilities in different areas of life and the perception of what these people with disabilities can actually accomplish. Disability is rooted in the public's intolerance of marginalized people and in their reaction to the unfair situation they endure (Tom Shakespeare, 2002). The handicap of marginalized people is recognized by the relatively low degree of social integration of these people, that is to say by their low social participation in the various spheres of life. In this regard, the world of work is a central issue. 

References for The Social Model of Disability

BampiI, L. N., GuilhemII, D., & Alves, E. D. (2010). Social Model: A New Approach of the Disability Theme. Scielo.

Horyzonty. (2016). Manual for youth workers working with young people with disabilities. Center of Youth Initatives „Horizons”, CIM Horyzonty.

Rachid, B. (2018). Access to schooling for people with special needs in Algeria. Sociology International Journal.

Tom Shakespeare, N. W. (2002). The social model of disability: an outdated ideology? Research in Social Science.

WHO. (n.d.). World report on disability. Retrieved from www.who.int: https://www.who.int/disabilities/world_report/2011/chapter1.pdf?ua=1

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