Recently I was facilitating at a national conference and was having a conversation with a mom of a 7 year old with ADHD. In my interest to find common ground I said something about having worked in the disability sector for more than 20 years.
“ADHD is not a disability!” She yelled at me. It was impossible to recover from that conversation as she was so offended by my suggesting that her son was disabled – “the system is flawed….we shouldn’t put labels on people that make them be treated differently”.
The irony of this experience is that the first thing she did was put a label on her son as a child with ADHD. I was about to move a conversation from disabilities to recognizing diverse abilities. I was going to talk about a personal passion for diversity, inclusion and integration of client centered service models (she was an early childhood educator).
My work within health, human and community services has exposed me to this phenomenon many times – through many different disability lens. I discovered that people with physical disabilities don’t want to be associated with people with intellectual disabilities… because they would be perceived as ‘dumb’…or worse ‘retarded’. People who had acquired physical disabilities, did not want to be confused with people who were born with physical limitations – ‘they don’t know what it means to lose an ability!’ I have watched people who are blind needing to prove they can do it as good as anyone else…and in the process are limiting their ability to consider the view from a seeing person’s perspective. I have met people who are deaf that prefer to live in a world with their own…even the Associations are disconnected – ‘Being hard of hearing is not the same as being deaf!’ a leader in the deaf community told me once . And then there are the invisible disabilities…mental health, intellectual disabilities, FASD. And progressive disabilities….arthritis, MS, Alzheimer’s.
What if we didn’t have any labels, no disability sectors. NO DIAGNOSIS REQUIRED!
‘I have a disability, but I am not disabled’…. I say this all the time. Having a disability does not have to mean that you are disadvantaged. My step-son had very complex disabilities, but we never felt he would be held back in life because he had us to overcome any barrier he might face. I know a lot of people with disabilities – obvious and invisible – that are as engaged in life, and are as ABLE, as anyone else.
What if we approached the needs of each individual based on the barriers they are facing?
♦ Is there enough food, affordable housing, and access to health systems?
♦ Income security – Are there adequate financial supports. What can we do to help this person work?
♦ Transportation – Let’s make sure they can get to work, to school, to appointments.
♦ Is someone available to help make decisions? Are they connected to a community?
Overcoming barriers is one step at a time. What if the next time someone calls we said…. What are you doing right now – and how can I help? (instead of what is your issue – what kind of disability do you have – have you been diagnosed ?)
It is as important that ‘people with disabilities’ shed their labels – give up their armor – as it is for government to consider the whole person, fluid conditions that influence quality of life, and the unique contribution that every person can make.
Being an Albertan should be the only label required to live an inclusive life.