Thursday, 17 July 2008

DISABILITY


“One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.” - Helen Keller

I spent most of my day today in a special disability workshop, where senior academics and management from our institution were taking part. This was to ensure we were up to date with legislation, that we have adequate policies and procedures in place to ensure fair treatment of people with disabilities and that we were sufficiently comfortable with educating people regarding diversity in the workplace and our student body. The workshop proved to be very useful and interesting and our staff got much out of it.

In a large teaching organization such as ours, we have both staff and students who have some disability. Impairment of vision or of hearing, locomotor disability, learning disabilities are very common, but also becoming much more common are various mental disabilities or disorders. It is quite interesting to look into a classroom and although everyone looks quite “normal” and “ordinary”, to know that about 6% of the people there have a disability that interferes with their learning. This is in contrast with the community, where the percentage of disabled people may be as high as about 18%.

By law we are required to provide disabled people with equal access to education and employment. Although this will often create problems for the organization in terms of adequate facilities and resources, trouble and expense, I feel is worthwhile as a diverse environment is an enriched environment. Disabled people often describe themselves as “differently abled” and I tend to agree with that characterisation. How often do you see a blind person being able to use their fingertips to read Braille efficiently and quickly, or be aware of sounds more acutely than a sighted person? Deaf people engaged in a rapid conversation using sign language, or being able to lip-read? People with a variety of motor disabilities being able to carry out the most complex tasks, eg. painting, with the aid of their lips and mouth.

The question then turned to inclusiveness in terms of age, gender, race, religion, culture, ethnicity, sexuality, language, etc. The same legal obligation binds us in all of these cases also. Discrimination based on any of these criteria is illegal and there have been numerous cases where people have sued successfully for being discriminated against on these grounds. I was pleased to say that all attendees came out of the seminar suitably enlightened, but I was also heartened by the broadmindedness and non-discriminatory attitude of our staff.

disability |ˌdisəˈbilitē| noun ( pl. -ties)
A physical or mental condition that limits a person's movements, senses, or activities : Children with severe physical disabilities.
• A disadvantage or handicap, esp. one imposed or recognized by the law: He had to quit his job and go on disability.

ORIGIN: From Latin, sometimes via Old French des- + late Middle English (also in the sense [easy to use, suitable] ): from Old French hable, from Latin habilis ‘handy,’ from habere ‘to hold.’

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