Society Must Empower Disabled People to Take Risks

I believe there is one important but unwritten human right that is often overlooked in relation to disabled people, and that is the right to take risks. For me, taking risks is simply about making choices and taking the consequences that go with these choices. It is only by making choices that be can make mistakes, and making mistakes is the only way we properly learn to deal with the real world. It does not matter how many times a child is told not to put their finger in a burning candle because it will hurt, a child will not resist doing it themselves as the only way to understand fire hurts.

I think it is important to understand there is a big difference between taking risks and taking part in risky behaviour that is reckless. Disabled people, particularly those with learning difficulties or mental health issues, may require additional support to make informed choices to understand the potential risks they are taking, something we can call risk enablement. I believe it is so important for full inclusion for people to take the risks they are able to with the support they require, such as with the use of advocates. But importantly, it is important that advocates do not force people to make the ‘right choice’ but their own choice, being aware of the consequences, even if society perceives that to be a mistake.

Unfortunately many people within society often still have difficulties accepting disabled people are able to make choices and take risks, due to their desire to over-protect us with risk aversive policies. By regarding disabled people as vulnerable, it is the same as regarding them as incapable of taking risks and therefore having the ability to take control of their lives. A perfect example of how this is happening is the language and examples used to oppose benefit sanctions.

This article is not interested in the rights or wrongs of benefit sanctions, but it is concerned by the implications of how disabled people are being portrayed by those who oppose sanctions, particularly in relation to people with learning difficulties and mental health issues. A sanction in any context, right or wrong, is a consequence of the choices and risks we take. Even if we feel we had no choice, we had made a choice by discounting those choices that would cause us immediate harm or discomfort. Sometimes a choice is about having to choose between the best of two evils, to reduce the negative consequences, as having choice and control does not always feel wonderful or powerful.

I feel benefit sanctions is a perfect example to show how many people within society have issues with regarding disabled people as capable beings who can take risks and indeed have the right to take risks. But it is still too common for the media and others to portray disabled people as incapable, who often need carers to take risks on their behalf. While this may indeed be true for some people, in some situations, it is not an assumption that can or should be made.

I am proud of the risks I have taken in my life as someone with high support needs, many of which have been huge and indeed ‘risky’. As an entrepreneur, I am always taking risks in the hope of the big rewards they may bring me, in the same way to any other entrepreneur. And when the risks were not successful, I have had my share of sanctions, notably when I was made bankrupt in 2008. And I am proud of my bankruptcy because I did not let my impairments stop me from making the same choices and taking the same risks as non-disabled people in my position.

Enabling disabled people to make choices and take risks, so they can make their own mistakes to learn from, does not mean abandoning them or being heartless, but promoting risk enablement over risk aversion. Taking risks is a human right as well as a responsibility that is too often forgotten or avoided, especially when disabled people are portrayed as the victims of welfare.

from Simon Stevens


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s