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Community & Internet Resources

Disability Experiences: Conversations on Disability



Welcome to Conversations on Disability. Please do not let the conversation end. Visit our NHU Community Forum to engage in this and other important conversations with your peers.


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Is There a Better Way to Define Disabilities?

The term, "disabled," is too general! It leaves the average person lacking in knowledge and insight as to what a disabled individual can or cannot do.

Medical classifications in themselves have limited value as most people are unaware of the effects of various disabilities.

Ask anyone how Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, Cerebral Palsy or other disorders restrict an individual.

Most people would be hard pressed to tell you the effects of a specific disorder, nor could they tell you to what extent the individual with a particular disorder can function, nor explain whether the disorder is a multiple disability affecting all facets of an individual's life. This would not, even be taking into consideration the severity of the condition nor the age of the individual.

For example, a person who has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy could have only one limb involved affecting only his ability to use one hand, or his whole body could be involved affecting his ability to talk, write, communicate, walk, and understand, or the disorder could be anywhere between these two extremes.

A greater comprehension of an individual's ability to function could lead to better understanding and more realistic expectations, but more importantly, it could diminish the frustrations of disabled people and their families in dealing with a public who compares or measures expectations against the disabled neighbor or friend whose only disability might be that he cannot walk, but who has the benefit of and can rely on hand skills, communication, or cognitive and social skills enjoyed by the rest of society.

Defining a disability by medical diagnosis is, in effect, defining a disability by cause.

Is this existing system adequate?

Could the system be significantly improved by defining a disability by EFFECT rather than by cause?

Access to services can be denied or funds misapplied because of categorization of disability by cause. In actuality, people with differing disabilities can require the same type of services.

The risks in defining disabilities by cause are not meeting the needs of the disabled individual, misapplying services, or overlooking existing unmet needs.

With the shortage of available funds and the projected number of people needing services for chronic conditions, better ways of utilizing services is essential.

A system based on functioning limitations might lead to increased understanding by legislators, as well as individuals.

It could also be useful to van, health care and other companies or therapists and educators who work with disabled people. It could result in improved access by the disabled and their families to needed services.

There would no doubt be some risk in redefining disabilities. However, since the current system is not readily defining the needs of individuals, defining by effect might be worth a try.

Defining Disabilities: Suggestions

One possible way to define disabilities could be by using a scale to measure mobility, speech, etc.

Using mobility as an example:

The same scale could be used for speech, sight, etc.

Your comments are welcome. If you have questions or ideas, information and solutions that you would like to share with us, contact us by e-mail at: horizons@new-horizons.org or to use our NHU E-Mail Form or NHU Community Discussion Board, click on the links below.


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If you have questions or ideas, information and solutions that you would like to share with us, contact us by e-mail at: horizons@new-horizons.org or to use our NHU E-Mail Form or NHU Community Forum, click on the links below.

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