How do we make including disabled people ‘fair’?

In the context of this article, inclusion can be seen as the activities that are required by state, society and individuals to assist people with impairments to fully participate in all of Citizenship including employment, leisure and family life. This will include removing environmental barriers, changing behaviours and practises, and enabling and empowering individuals to grasp the opportunities available to them.

There is nothing controversial with this until you start to look at how and what resources the state and others are able and willing to provide to achieve inclusion. My understanding is that most disabled activists are demanding what they define as a ‘human rights’ approach to the problem, which appears to argue that it is the legal right under international law to have inclusion as they define it regardless of how much it costs.

It sounds great, but I fear it is an approach that fails to acknowledge the responsibility of participation. The notions of human rights, defined by a post-war society to avoid the horrors of world warfare,  have been stretched into something quite vague. The right to independent living sounds great but since the concept of independent living is in the eye of the beholder, it becomes the right to anything they want or demand, without any ability to challenge, which has always seemed unfair to me.

We live in a world of limited resources that need to be shared with everyone in a manner that is complex. This means no decision by anyone that involves resources can not ignore the nee to consider its wider consequences. And therefore we have to rely upon the concept of fairness to avoid selfishness. I know this sounds like the beginning of a justification for public spending cuts or some extreme restrictions on the rights of people with impairments, which it is not, as I am merely interested in what are the building blocks of fairness.

The inclusion of people with impairments into society can not simply be a nice thing to do, but something that benefits the fabric of society. Therefore inclusion has to include the right and ability to take due responsibility for people’s place in society equal to everyone else. And I fear that the rights agenda have ignored this point as well as the imperfections that goes with being fully included.

No one likes an out-of-order toilet on a train, but it is, however, a part of the reality that comes with inclusion.  No one has the right to a perfect life, and being included means being subject to the imperfections of life as much as anyone else, as this is what makes us human. Fighting for a better standard of general service compared to others, outside the realms of discrimination, because of ‘disability, is actually a call for special treatment and exclusion.

I hate the term fairness because it is often so vague, but it is a term we need to work with. In delivering inclusion to people with impairments, I believe it is right to ask difficult questions to see if it is reasonable or not for people to expect specific things beyond the current level generally agreed. Should I have a computer supplied to me as I can not write despite the fact they are now the norm? Should the state pay the costs of taking my personal assistant on holiday? These are the questions that will never have simple answers.

Fairness is a term everyone is happy with until it applies to them, but it is a term that must apply to everyone for the inclusion of people with impairments to work.

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