Impairments vs. Disability

“Perceiving disability through a social model rather than through the medical paradigm that has  dominated Western psyche for generations now is an essential step towards recognizing our bodily variations and limitations as an integral aspect of our humanity.” Pg. 22, Discovering Trinity in Disability

The medical model, one could argue, looks at us and tells us where we fall short from the “norm.” Based on a collection of facts, you receive a label and a method of treatment. But the social model of disability says that people may be born or develop impairments, but that disability is caused by the way society is organized. It looks at how we can structure our society inclusively so that we as a society may benefit from their full participation and they, the individual, are not excluded, discriminated against or made to feel less than because of how they are formed.

“In Western culture, we are so accustomed to equating disability with tragedy and suffering that it takes some effort to get our heads around the notion of disability as simply a way of being. Stigmatizing unconventional bodily variety as defect, rather than accommodating and honouring particular ways of being, can disable people as much or more than an impairment.” Pg. 26, Discovering Trinity in Disability

It is the assumptions we make about people and the ways we isolate them that often are the most wounding, I’ve found. We are all people who have things to offer one another. I remember I went to meet a man who had limited use of his arms but because of a spinal cord injury, he was bed ridden. That day, his nurse didn’t show up to care for him. My father and I were going to take him out but nobody had gotten him ready. After a bit of conversation I realized there would be no meal for him so I suggested my dad and I go and pick up whatever food he wanted; we could eat with him and he could talk to me afterwards. We made sure he was set-up well, I asked what he needed so he could eat, and he told me about his life, his relationship with God and what he was doing with where he was. He was a passionate man sharing the word of God with people through e-mails, texts and conversation. He thanked God that He sent us to care for him today when his nurse was unable to but I was the one being blessed through relationship with this man.

We watched a video in class where a woman talked about spending hours in the park building up the courage to go in a coffee shop in her wheelchair to get coffee alone. She would either have to make people uncomfortable by carrying the cup with her mouth or people would need to assist her by carrying her order to the table. This broke my heart. I remember how isolated I saw my mom becoming and I didn’t want her to be excluded from society; my mother has so much to offer. She’s an extraordinary woman gifted with so many talents who continues to be a blessing to our family and makes sure her and dad’s business operates well. Why should she feel marginalized or less than? Why is she excluded from so many things in society? And why do people not see what a great loss it is to them to not know her?

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