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Society’s Role In Disabling Citizens


Often people look at others who have a disability be it intellectual, sensory, mental, or motor with sympathetic eyes. While I believe it is true that these different groups of people do usually have burdens that most do not, the question is how much of that burden rests with the person’s ailment and how much rests with a society unwilling to make concessions and unwilling to change?

As a nation we profess to be followers of the Social Model of Disability. A philosophy that’s main tenet is that people are not born disabled, they are born with impairments, but they are disabled by the structures of society which favour the majority without these impairments. And yet we allow people with intellectual disabilities to live in state funded or state ran residential care settings where their say is undermined by structures that are inaccessible or by staff unwilling to listen. That comment must come with the obvious but never overstated caveat that the majority of staff working in the intellectual disabled field work hard and display a patience and compassion profound. But what is being questioned here is our society’s willingness to listen to people with Intellectual disabilities, respect their agency and respect their right to choose.

Imagine, you woke one day in a place where you were made follow a routine, same get up time, same bath time, same actions every day. Where you had no control over your activities and were instead forced or coerced into what was convenient for others. Imagine that the light bulb in your room had an annoying flicker and you couldn’t tell anyone about it or the general building you found yourself in was dirty and dilapidated. Thousands of fellow citizens’ wake up to that situation every day, they are not a powerful lobby and are often ignored.

This situation does not have to persist. Other countries employ intricate and cost effective methods of communicating with people with severe intellectual disabilities. These methods can be quite inventive, for example, encouraging young people who are residents in a care home to create their own straw man and name it and then get them to tell the straw man what are the negatives and positives of the home (a diversionary tactic to enable children to open up without fear of staff reprisal). Such a communication device would cost little, yet it is pragmatic and helpful, meaningful change does not have to be expensive, yet if we listen we can make a major difference to somebody’s life.

The Views of this Your Say! article do not necessarily represent the views of the Fountain Resource Group. If you agree with this contributor, or perhaps you disagree and would like to write a response, feel free to email us at to have your say!

Fountain News DigitalThis article was originally published in:
Fountain News Digital – May 2011 (Issue 4)

We are re-publishing all articles from our past newsletter, Fountain News Digital, and you can view all completed newsletters here. There were nine issues published in total between 2010 and 2012.

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