Full Disclosure
April 21, 2006

A new paradigm

As a point of departure, a new paradigm can best be understood when it is contrasted to the one it replaces. As it pertains to persons living with a disability, the question must therefore be asked as to how comprehensive is the approach presently adopted as it relates to addressing the needs of persons who are not fully able? This then begs the question as to what is the best approach to be adopted.

In the year 2000, the United States Census showed that 49.7 million people in the United States of America age five and over had some form of disability. At that time the statistics were clear that nearly one in every five U.S. residents was impaired by a disability of some sort.{{more}}

A few weeks ago, the Ministry with responsibility for persons with Disabilities saw it fit to conduct a seminar and workshop to discuss a new general policy framework to assist persons living with disabilities. The discussions were not only enlightening in that they explained regional and international comparatives, but it clearly outlined that as a matter of policy a comprehensive approach to addressing the needs of the less capable will be required to be addressed in a more systematic and methodological manner. This was very reassuring.

This new paradigm being advocated by the Ministry embraces a new and more positive understanding of what it means to have a disability. Firstly, it was striking to note the significantly slim line between a person being fully able bodied and becoming disabled in a matter of moments. This clearly shows that the issues touching and concerning disabilities should be the concern of everyone.

However, our society and particularly our culture must undergo certain changes by developing sufficient methods and tools to accommodate the human differences that we possess either permanently or at different stages of our lives.

The growth of technology in our lives provides us with both the ability to detect more human differences than ever before, as well as the ability to make those differences less meaningful in practical terms. Nonetheless, how we react to human differences still remains a social and a policy choice. Notwithstanding such, the way forward must at all times be to advocate for a social structure that focuses on including all people in the social fabric, rather than drawing an artificial line that separates “disabled people” from others.

The “old’’ paradigm has presented disability as the result of a deficit in an individual that prevents the individual from performing certain functions or activities. This underlying assumption about disability has affected many aspects of rehabilitation. New paradigm calls for new definitions of “disability’. Changes in the ways we define and conceptualized the term “disability” is the beginning of the change required.

This need for a change in definitions must be addressed by activities to educate our people to embrace the new paradigm.

The new policy must be directed towards the development of new methods to focus on the interface between persons living with disabilities and society. In this regard, questions about employment status, for example, should focus on the need for suitable accommodation as well as on the existence of impairment.

We must develop ways to enable individuals with disabilities to compete in our economy, including education and training methods, job accommodations, and assisting technology. A further understanding is required of the public policy context within which disability falls.

General, fiscal and economic policies, as well as more specific policies on employment, delivery and financing of health care, income support, transportation, social services, and long-term care are critical factors influencing disability and disabled persons and must be properly addressed.

Oversights in these areas can very well inhibit the attainment of personal and social goals for persons with disabilities.

The mission appears to be properly placed in so far as envisioning the proper support systems needed to assist persons with disabilities. We must work on alleviating all forms of limitations.