Monday, March 10, 2008

"Disability is Natural" discussion

I came across a blog from Biodeverse Resistance where the author (listed as Shiva) notes seeing shirts saying that "Disability is Natural". The article discusses the social model of disability, drawing a distinction between impairment and disability.

"Under the social model, a clear distinction is made between impairment and disability, which the medical system and the individualised models it promotes conflate into one thing. Impairment is a physical or mental difference which prevents a person from being able to carry out daily activities considered "normal" for humans to be able to do - eg. standing/walking, seeing, hearing, feeding oneself, reading and writing, understanding verbal and non-verbal forms of communication as used by most people, etc. Disability is the lack of equality in society caused, not by impairments themselves, but by the failure or refusal of society to accommodate people with impairments - eg. by not making buildings accessible to wheelchair users, not providing information in formats accessible to people with visual or hearing impairments or learning disabilities like dyslexia..."

It also goes onto discuss People first Language. She makes an interesting distinction about different impairments and how she would refer to them,

"With regard to individual impairments, i usually would say "person X has CP/muscular dystrophy/Down's/Asperger's/whatever"... but that's mainly because those terms don't really have adjectival forms, and where the adjectival form is commoner - eg "blind", "autistic", "dyslexic" etc - i would use it, because an alternative form such as "person Y has autism" just seems to be... not "natural" English syntax."

I would agree that some forms of person first language is clumpy, but so is using proper grammar at times. The main argument I would make for person first language, is that it defines the individual as an individual rather than an impairment or disability.
When I was working in a hospital, I asked one of the nursing staff for a DSM to which they responded and explained to me that nurses don't use the DSM, and went on to explain the medical model versus the nursing model. The medical model treats an illness (schizophrenia for example) and gives medication, where as the nurse treats an individual with symptoms (in this case, paranoia, etc.) so their job is to make the person feel safe etc.
This is very much like person first language, it is an example about how your perception and response changes as a result of language.

Person first language is not just being politically correct. It is correct.

Important Links from this article
Biodiverse Resistance
Disability is Natural Homepage
People First Language Article pdf. (from Disability is Natural)
People First organization

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