The System Teaches Disabled People to be Passive

I believe that someone’s attitude to life can determine their future, more than anything else, and that a positive attitude can reap enormous benefits. This means also that a passive attitude will result in a poor quality of life, regardless of the amount of money they may have. I would like to suggest that for disabled people, the system of government, charities and society generally teaches disabled people to be passive as they impose their fears of their own mortality and vulnerability upon disabled people.

For the purpose of this article, I would like to suggest there are two ways disabled people become disabled, and each way has a ‘system’s pathway’ that is generally designed to teach disabled people to be passive.

The first way disabled people become disabled is they are born disabled or become disabled during their birth or early on in their childhood, where they would not know any different. Here, parents may have a huge role in shaping the attitude of their children and the parent’s own attitudes towards disability can be initially negative, or poorly shaped by the professionals around them. Healthcare professionals’ approach tend to be to judge someone’s ability in terms of the probability it can be rectified with typical remarks like ‘they will never talk/walk properly’.

Once these labels are set in stone at an early age, they determine a child’s educational experience, as well as their interaction with family. If a 3 year old is labelled as having a learning difficulty, there will have an education limited by that label, so creating an adult with learning difficulties. It is therefore hard to determine if the learning difficulty is from birth, or from the obviously poor education they would have received. And it is often not just academic learning that is missed, but also social learning, that causes the passive attitude I fear. Without a decent education, disabled young adults are perfectly positioned for adult day services, where the passive attitude can continue to be reinforced, often to continue the need for day services, keeping the system going.

The second way a disabled person becomes disabled is through sickness, injury or a dramatic event like a stroke. While a person’s general attitude will be a factor, their resultant attitude will be shaped by their ability to cope with the adjustment process, as well as their relationship with healthcare and other professionals. Having an impairment or disability in adulthood will generate a grieving style process, including the stages of grieve such as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance and as I discussed before, celebration. Everyone will handle this process in their own way, taking days, weeks, months, years or even decades to travel through each stage. Many disabled people may have never reach the acceptance or celebration stages, and therefore this will have a big impact on their attitude. If someone is stuck in the depression stage, they will be more engaging to negative attitudes and low expectations.

Once again, healthcare professionals can be very unhelpful since they will tell people what they are unable to now do in the manner they used to, without examining how they can overcome barriers with adaptations and doing things differently. Newcomers to disability can be wrapped up in the cotton wool of the sensitivity of primary care, where empathy for their situation means they are not duly challenged, enabling a long term passive attitude to form. This is why many newcomers can feel confronted by the realities of long-term impairment, including the benefits system and an expectation on them by others to work.

I would like to suggest that the reason little is done to challenge how disabled people are taught is because too many jobs within the health and social care fields feed upon this passivity. If a large population of disabled people smelt the coffee and started realising they did not need all these professionals supposedly supporting them, and can happily manage their own lives as normal citizens as opposed to being pigeon holed as special, then many charities and government funded services would find themselves unwanted and facing closure, putting non-disabled jobs at risk! This is why everyone fears the true enablement and empowerment of disabled people.

While money is always made out to be the problem for disabled people, whether that’s benefits, social care or the funding of other services, I believe it is attitudes of disabled people themselves that create the biggest problems. Let remove the incentives to keep disabled people passive, and then properly look at what other problems disabled people face.

from Simon Stevens


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