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Disability, Social Movements and Radical Theory

Introduction to Learning and Understanding Disability

Individuals with disability are usually not well supported and respected by the society. Along with their handicap, they witness emotional, social and economic difficulties. They begin to accept themselves as weak and incapable after being labelled so. Social isolation, loneliness with the other difficulties often torments them and pushes them towards depression and poor wellbeing (Emerson et al., 2020). Despite their ambitions and efforts, they are considered less able and are sometimes sympathized with while the other times they are ridiculed or simply ignored. We as a society need to work for a better tomorrow for our fellow individuals who might be disabled. An all-inclusive society and work environment can be a great start to give them their much-needed opportunity to live a better life. To build a disabled inclusive workplace it requires only minor modifications that involve slight adjustments to the policies and procedures. There is a sheer lack of awareness, open discussion and general awareness about the disabled and their struggles. The initiative should be taken and efforts should be made in order to spread awareness, banish the stigma and to ensure the disabled are accepted and respected in the society. The aim of this essay is to reflect on what I have learned about disability through lived experience narratives and how this knowledge may differ from the knowledge I had prior to this.

Social Outlook of Disability

Disability is not just a matter of personal difficulties and issues, rather, it is about the potential of the culture to disable the person (Bernal & Roca, 2016). This implies that individuals with a disability begin to feel inferior and less capable not just because of their handicap but because of how they are treated and portrayed in the society. This ideology can be liberating as it provides the people with disabilities, the tools and opportunity to look and thrive beyond the discrimination as well as the handicap if they choose to look beyond the society’s perspective.

The sociologists dream and believe in a world where individuality works in synergy with equality. They like to see beyond what catches the eye and they see deviance as a deeper cause which is rooted by the society in the minds of people. Ableism is a belief that builds an image for disability as an unwanted discrepancy or deviance (Tarvainen, 2019). Ableism propagates the notion that a disabled individual is less than a human and such propagation leads to inequality against the disabled on multiple levels. Whereas, the sociological perspective asserts that there is no laid out definition for deviance and there exists no universal standard for normal behaviour. Deviance is a concept created and promoted by the society (Grue, 2016).

The sociologist’s interest is driven by their curiosity to understand the human behaviour against the disabled and they attempt to break the barriers firmly withheld by the society.

Irrespective of the fact how successful or how ambitious a disabled person is the society continues to look at the disabled individual with pity. Not just that they sometimes disregard their aspirations and talent and shun them away when they try to stand on their feet. The society considers them inferior and discourages them so much that the disabled eventually accept the label of being less capable and deserving and succumb to the societal pressures. The labelling perspective has led to misappropriation, criticism and misinterpretation amongst the society apart from creating a huge gap between abled and disabled.

Whereas the social model of disability is based on the fundamental that the true roots of disability are in the barriers set in order by the society and not in the individual impairment (Lucas, Greenberg & Beavan 2017). As the society does not consider disability as acceptable, the sociological perspective aims to fight the negative image of disability that has been created by the society. The sociologists reckon that if they can make the disabled feel accepted and if they can work on the individual identities of the disabled, a path for the progress of the disabled individuals can be paved.

We often forget about people with disabilities who have done exceptionally well, who chose to rise above the society’s projections and their handicap. Hellen Keller, a phenomenal personality who lost her sight and hearing ability in her childhood went on to become the first blind and deaf graduate. After graduation, she then helped ameliorate the blind and deaf by starting a foundation for them. She also penned down twelve books and became a famous author. Albert Einstein, a famous mathematician and physicist, who went on to become one of the most accomplished and successful scientists, himself suffered from a learning disability.

Despite the positive changes like the advent of Paralympics and many other such events that are favourable for the growth and talent of the disabled, the society continues to be regressive.

We live in a society that teaches right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable even before we speak our first words. Seeds of norms sown so early then go on to fog our vision all throughout life. Growing in such a society influences and shapes our opinion about everything in life, including the disabled. Social media, movies, newspapers and magazines impact our psychological outlook tremendously. They depict the disabled as individuals who are less capable or to be sympathized with instead of portraying them as courageous, brave and capable individuals. Also, they overlook the struggle and success stories of the disabled and rather focus on more sensational news and topics.

As much as I sympathized and felt bad for the disabled I used to feel there is nothing I can do for them. I often kept a distance from them not knowing how to interact or understand them. I felt even if I do something for them how much it would impact them or would it even make a difference. I used to think how far would a single act of kindness go and even if I am kind to them still there will be others who continue to be unkind and disrespectful. Watching the society while growing up, which either projected discrimination or ignorance towards the disabled, embedded the thoughts of doubt and ignorance against the disabled in my mind as well.

However, having come across the sociological perspective of deviance, having had the opportunity to understand disability through lived experience narratives as well as going through the journal articles made me realise how wrong is the belief and knowledge about the disabled that we all have been fed before. The newly gathered knowledge made me understand the criticality of the situation and how it can be dealt with on an individual level, as well as on a larger level as a society.

I have now discerned the impact even a single act of kindness can have, how small things can make the disabled feel accepted and how it can make them feel less socially isolated. The disabled having gone through the atrocities of the society either completely shut out or look for acceptance and social interaction even in the smallest and simplest ways. We should be able to remove the social lens handed to us by the society and be able to look after the disabled.

Creating a work environment which does not discriminate but rather encourages everyone alike. Standing up for the disabled whenever we see them being projected to ill behaviour or difficult issues. Inviting individuals with disabilities to be a part of the social events and social groups. Giving them a helping hand, as we would to our other friends, whenever they are in need.

While having separate lines in grocery stores, different working systems or workplaces and various other amenities might be helpful for the physically disabled, they also strengthen the social belief that the able and disabled are very different. We need to concoct a scheme or plan for a disabled inclusive society where the disabled feel as much as a part of the society as the abled do.

WHO has long conceded that society and real-life environments have a significant influence on the lives of individuals with a disability (Cieza, 2018). Hence, it is essential to intervene and make the living environment more welcoming, facilitating and conducive to wellbeing for the disabled. While social and health interventions are required for improvement in the condition health-wise, environmental interventions that provide personal assistance and/or assistive technology are facilitating and ensure convenience for the disabled. Also, building social environments that are better accommodating and accessible are provisions for improved functioning and quality of life for the disabled.

Employment for individuals with disabilities is an essential aid in improving their lives. Employment helps kill two birds with a stone as it helps fight poverty and social isolation both of which are very common in the disabled (Vornholt et al., 2017). Ensuring employment and providing opportunities for the disabled can help them be self-sufficient and also enable them to be a part of the social network. Since the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) has been passed there has been international support for the interests of the person with disabilities to be pursued. This can help bridge the social as well as the economic gap between the abled and the disabled.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) protects all the human rights which include social, economic, political and cultural rights (Degener, 2016). This is critical because the disabled are discriminated at various levels regarding different aspects. The idea is to not consider them as aliens. Impairment and disability should be recognized as a human variation and the disabled should not be considered any less of a human than the abled.

The disabled continue to go through a large number of restrictions and limitations in all fields of life. Most of them even have the difficulty of accepting their disability and going for rehabilitation as they continually get oppressed by their peers and society. I believe if we spread the awareness and rise above the petty barriers and stigma deeply ingrained in our brains we can help the disabled live a better life.

Incorporating the New Understanding of Disability

According to a study, 26.4% of the disabled individuals are subjected to social isolation while 52% of the disabled individuals experienced social loneliness (Macdonald et al., 2018). The disabled lose their purpose and identity when they are shunned away by their peers, when they are discriminated against the abled and when they are labelled as deviants by the society. I believe if we start accepting them just as we accept our other peers, if we encourage them and not differentiate or discriminate, we can build a world where the disabled feel accepted. As the first step in order to bring this about, we can aim at making an effort to make the disabled feel they can count on us, by extending a hand for friendship and lending an ear when they want to talk. It is a very small contribution as compared to the efforts the disabled put in to fit into this world.

To prevent the disabled from feeling discriminated, we can make an effort to not let them feel any less capable. We can do this by including them in our plans and outings, by asking them if they need assistance before offering them any, by making sure they get equal opportunities and standing up for them when they don’t get equal opportunities.

Social isolation has been compared to smoking due to its hazards for the health of the public (Repke & Ipsen, 2020). Social isolation and loneliness of the disabled contribute significantly to their poor wellbeing. Efforts should be made to work on a socially inclusive workplace and society for the disabled. We can do so by working in synergy with the disabled, helping them out like we would help our abled colleagues, inviting them over for festivities and celebrations and being supportive and understanding when they share their grievances.

Modifications to build a disabled inclusive workplace can be easily orchestrated and usually involve minor changes to the policies and procedures of the workplace. We can have a conversation with the employer and the seniors and discuss the opportunities that can make the lives of the disabled better and give them a plausible chance of earning their livelihood. The disabled hold the potential to contribute significantly to the growth of the organization and the society just as much as the abled and this discussion, as well as thought, needs to be propagated. Apart from that, depending on the disability of the person being hired at our workplace, we can take the initiative to slightly rearrange the office space to accommodate the disabled. We can even specifically learn more about the disability so that we make the individual with disabilities feel welcomed and we can understand them better. Also, we need to bear in mind that all the disabilities need not be visible, we should look out for the people with mental or psychological disabilities too. However, we should maintain their privacy and never project our doubts or inquisitiveness in a forced manner. We can also find common interests that we share with the disabled employee which can help them feel socially accepted.

Conclusion on Learning and Understanding Disability

Disability has become less about the capability or incapability and more about what the society puts forward. Unfortunately, the world presently is not conducive to growth or opportunities for the disabled, it rather pities, ignores or disrespects them. The disabled are quite often labelled as deviants and incapable. The labelling of the disabled as incapable by the society often leads them to accept themselves to be inferior. Disability is not considered as a human variation instead it is thought to be less human than the abled. Despite, the great examples in the history as well as the strengths and ambition of the disabled they are considered weak and incapable. Society and media have fed our thinking and psychology misleading information about the disabled which has led to them being socially isolated. The disabled are not offered enough employment opportunity and hence they end up being economically weak. There exist social and cultural barriers which prevent us from building an environment conducive for the growth and progress of the disabled. We need to bring about change, as both, an individual as well as a society. According to WHO, the social environment and living conditions play a huge role in determining the quality of life of the disabled. Interventions for a better quality of life for the disabled may include interventions to look after the health, to provide personal assistance and/or assistive technology and a more accommodating social environment. Increased and better employment opportunities for the disabled can help bridge the social as well as the economic gap between abled and disabled.

References for Learning and Understanding Disability

Bernal, V.G. & Roca, B. (2016). Disability, social movements and radical theory: An anthropological approach. Anthropological Notebooks, 22(2), 79-92.

Cieza, A., Sabariego, C., Bickenbach, J. & Chatterji, S. (2018). Rethinking disability. BMC Medicine, 16(1), 1-5.

Degener, T. (2016). Disability in a human rights context. Laws, 5(3), 35.

Emerson, E., Fortune, N., Llewellyn, G. & Stancliffe, R. (2020). Loneliness, social support, social isolation and wellbeing among working age adults with and without disability: Cross sectional study. Disability and Health Journal, 100965, 1-15.

Grue, J. (2016). The social meaning of disability: A reflection on categorisation, stigma and identity. Sociology of Health & Illness, 38(6), 957–964.

Lucas, J. W., Greenberg, M. & Beavan, K. (2017). Research on physical disability in sociological social psychology: The state of the field and future directions. Sociology Compass, 12(2), 1-11.

Macdonald, S. J., Deacon, L., Nixon, J., Akintola, A., Gillingham, A., Kent, J., Ellis, G., Mathews, D., Ismail, A., Sullivan, S., Dore, S. & Highmore, L. (2018). The invisible enemy: Disability, loneliness and isolation. Disability & Society, 1–22.

 Repke, M. A. & Ipsen, C. (2019). Differences in social connectedness and perceived isolation among rural and urban adults with disabilities. Disability and Health Journal, 13(1), 100829.

Tarvainen, M. (2019). Ableism and the life stories of people with disabilities. Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research, 21(1), 291–299.

Vornholt, K., Villotti, P., Muschalla, B., Bauer, J., Colella, A., Zijlstra, F., Ruitenbeek, V.G., Uitdewilligen, S. & Corbière, M. (2017). Disability and employment – Overview and highlights. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 27(1), 40–55.

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