Disability Vs. Ability

“You’re not disabled by the disabilities you have, you’re abled by the abilities you have” – Oscar Pistorious

People, especially employers tend to see people’s disabilities not their abilities, like all of us, people with disabilities need to choose jobs or volunteering roles which bring out the best of their abilities, while some people with disabilities may do their job with minimum or no assistance at all, others may need some mentoring in the job, or workplace modifications.

Employment or Volunteering are avenues in which the societal devaluation of people with disabilities can be seriously challenged. Firstly, it dispels the myth that people with disabilities are burdens on society, who cannot contribute to the community- by virtual of the fact that a person with a disability is in paid employment or is volunteering, means that the person can make a meaningful contribution to the community. Secondly, volunteering can help a person with a disability become more competent and independent and therefore gain a sense of achievement.

Thirdly, volunteering gives the community a chance to focus on what people with can do, rather than what they can’t do, thus raising the community’s expectations of people with disabilities.

While volunteering may only lead to small pockets of positive change in the community for a small number of people with disabilities, the more people with disabilities are involved in volunteer roles in the community, the more the “ripple effect” will be, when it comes to the acceptance and belonging of people with disabilities in the community.

For most of their life, most people with a disability have been told what they can’t do; volunteering in the community gives these people a chance to focus on what they can do and gives them a sense of accomplishment, pride and identity. For some people with disability, sadly, this is the first time that other people have seen them in a positive light.

In essence, volunteering for people with disabilities is a win-win situation. For organisations that provide such opportunities, they are likely to gain some very dedicated and loyal volunteers, and are tapping into an untapped source of potential volunteers.

For the community, it gives them a chance to focus on people’s abilities and not their disabilities and to see such people in a positive light, and for people with disabilities, it gives them the chance to increase their self-confidence, to develop new skills and to have a sense of belonging to the community.

Regardless of who you are-your gender, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, marital status, political beliefs or disability, nobody can live in isolation segregated- away from the rest of the community—everyone has a certain sense of belonging, their place in the community.

When asked to name the good things in life, most people placed having relationships with others on top of their list. They say that these relationships give their life added meaning, they appreciate the intimacy, joy and safety and know that this comes with the frustration and complexity of real human interaction.

When it comes to people with disabilities, the human service system has treated the creation of relationships with other community members as a very poor second to fulfilling day to day basic care needs of such persons. All too often, those that work within the disability sector have treated the creation of community connections for people with disabilities as an “added extra” as though this is a luxurious item, rather than a necessity to life.

This way of thinking is due to past legacies, where children with disabilities were placed in institutions at a young age, educated in special school-segregated away from other children, “employed” in sheltered workshops or attended day respite services, away from the rest of the community. Our past is one of “otherness”, “differences”, not of “sameness” or unification.

The introduction of the NDIS has played a role of recognising the importance of community connections for people with disabilities, however additional money or resources can not welcome people into the community, only people can welcome people into the community. For relationships to be recognised as a fundamental need, there has to to be major changes in the ways in which society thinks of people with disability.

However, this is not a one way street, not only do people with disabilities need to connect to communities, communities need to connect with people with disabilities. Without community participation of people with disabilities, the life and spirit within the community can not be achieved and therefore the community is on the verge of becoming non-existent and the community is empty-only being a geographical place on a map.

People with disabilities can make positive contributions to the community, but to do they need to make connection within the community. They can have roles which are view positively by the rest of society—volunteer, employee, employer, business owner, home owner, tenant, Lion or Rotarian, entrepreneur, customer, etc. They can join in the rich fabric of their community.

People with disabilities are representative of other groups who live on the fringes of society, challenging communities. Challenges cause conflict and conflict leads to change and change is what people with disabilities inspire.

When society recognises the gains that can be made from enacting values of citizenship and inclusion of all people, the role that people with disabilities have played in the evolution of civilisation will be discovered.

Knowledge is power!

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