“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Saturday, January 25, 2014

What is relevant?

We had a discussion in one of my classes the other night about the medical and social models of disability.  You can find out more about those models by searching this blog. But something that came up, that I kept reiterating is that only what is relevant should be relevant. A critical problem with society is that they think some characteristics of people are relevant, when in reality they may or may not be.

If I am riding a horse, the fact that I wear glasses is irrelevant. If I am talking to a friend about whether he should or should not get bifocals, the fact that I wear glasses is very relevant. If I am meeting a friend at a restaurant, the fact that she uses a wheelchair is irrelevant (or at least should be, and generally speaking in the US it is irrelevant). However, if I am asking her to discuss how her disability has impacted her desire to be employed, that she uses a wheelchair is very relevant.

The key is to keep the relevant relevant and the irrelevant irrelevant.

If I have an intellectual disability and as a result I am segregated, that is making what should be irrelevant relevant.
If I use a wheelchair and because of that I cannot find a job, that is making what should be irrelevant relevant.

It is critical for people to look on their neighbors wisely. If something is considered relevant for some reason, it should be logical and defensible. So much of the discrimination people face is the basis of making irrelevant things, ethnicity, gender, disability relevant to judgements about people when it should not be so.

Yes there are aspects of human impairment that are best addressed by a medical model approach. There are other aspects that are best addressed by a social model approach. It is not one or the other. As Tom Shakespeare has related, he cannot blame society and discrimination by society for a bladder infection resultimg from his impairment. He can blame society for making personal characteristics relevant as a cause for discrimination.

The key is understanding the difference and only making personal characteristics relevant when they should be relevant.



Arthur Seale said...

Even where there are medical issues that need to be addressed, a person's diagnosed are only relevant in that it may inform the kind of medical treatments received. The individual with intellectual disabilities with or without medical issues is still a part of a social and/or multicultural group. As members of this group they have the constitutional right to the freedom of assembly and association. This may include inclusion in activities with neuro-typical individuals as well as groups that are comprised of their peers: individuals with intellectual disabilities.

Anonymous said...

I love this posting. I always to make relevant things relevant and the irrelevant things irrelevant, I think I have done a pretty good job at this. I grew up with a mom who works in special education and I was always taught that just because a person has a disability does not make them any less of person than someone who does not have a disability. I live by this everyday and I hope to teach those that I come in contact with what my own mother has taught me over my life. Whenever I see someone with a disability, I do not make any assumptions about them as a person or even regard their disability as a disability. I treat people with disabilities the same way I would treat someone who does not have a disability. I believe that a person's disability, whether mental or physical, does not have anything to do with how they should be treated. It saddens me to see that people are discriminated against just because they learn a little slower or a little differently from everyone else. Or because they have to do things a little differently than others. "A person is a person, no matter how small." I think this quote speaks volumes when it comes to finding the relevant and irrelevant things about a person with a disability.