Check out this view on disability from the World Health Organization.
Disabilities is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations.
Disability is thus not just a health problem. It is a complex phenomenon, reflecting the interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives. Overcoming the difficulties faced by people with disabilities requires interventions to remove environmental and social barriers.
First and foremost, disability is an impairment, physical or mental. Take Jack for example. Jack lives with a disability. His vision is severely impaired, but he still has to take care of his basic needs—feeding, dressing, shopping. That woman you see getting on the bus everyday in a wheelchair? Her name is Irene. She may not be able to walk, but she works in an office, every day from nine to five.
The World Health Organization posits that a significant portion of disability is the “interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives.” In other words, it’s the way a person with a disability manages in the environment where he lives and works and plays. Jack can’t see and Irene can’t walk, but Jack and Irene are part of our world, where we all live and work and play.
Jack and Irene have come to terms with their disabilities and limitations. What about the rest of their environment? What about the people they come in contact with every day? Can our society learn to accommodate every individual whatever his impairment or limitation?
Even more—can our society learn to value and respect every individual? Jack is not just his cane, and Irene is not her wheelchair. There is a heart and soul beyond the obvious physical handicap. Jack and Irene can and want to be productive members of society—respected, not pitied, accommodated not excluded. Often, the more society labels Jack or Irene, the more difficult it is for Jack and Irene to adapt and fit in. Despite physical limitation or cognitive disorder, disabled individuals can be good friends, great parents, and excellent teachers.
Labeling the disabled puts them in a box, imposing more limitations and restrictions. The disability itself limits and restricts! We have no right to hamper further progress and development. Disability exists. Society—we—must accommodate. But as a society, we must also look beyond the disability because behind that cane, sitting on that wheelchair, is a beloved relative, a respected teacher, a best friend.
May all the Jacks and Irenes of this world be enabled to reach their full potential!