Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Normal People Need Services

Here's something to ponder for Blogging Against Disablism Day: Using disability services or accommodations doesn't necessarily mean that something is "wrong" with a person.

Some folks will argue quite vehemently that anyone who isn't defective or broken has no need for services. That argument doesn't make any sense, though, when you think about it. In today's world, everybody needs services. We don't build our own homes, weave our own cloth, or grow our own food. The vast majority of our everyday needs are provided by other people, regardless of whether or not we happen to fit into some sort of disability category.

What's implied in the "defective or broken" argument is that there is something wrong with needing different or additional services. But really, that doesn't make sense either. Different groups of people use products and services that are specially adapted for their particular needs all the time. If you're female, that means you're going to need different clothing, personal hygiene products, and medical care than if you were male. If you have a light complexion, you may have to put on plenty of sunscreen when you go outdoors in the summer, unlike your darker-skinned neighbors—but that doesn't mean your skin color is a defect, does it? And if you have curly hair, that puts you in a minority of people who need to use different hair care products than most folks; however, you probably wouldn't be too happy if someone were to suggest that your hair texture ought to be "cured" for the sake of efficiency and standardization.

So how did anyone get the idea that it's abnormal to need services? I think it comes mainly from the negative, medicalized language that is so often used in referring to people who have different abilities. In order to get certain kinds of services or accommodations, one must be diagnosed with a disorder or defect. Sadly, this language is used most often to describe children who have different educational needs. It gives rise to a self-fulfilling prophecy that restricts their opportunities to learn, seriously damages their self-image, and stunts their capacity for achievement.

If we use more positive language to describe individuals with different abilities, as suggested by Thomas Armstrong in his article Special Education and the Concept of Neurodiversity, we can provide appropriate services for every child's needs without causing them to lose confidence in their abilities.

No child should ever be taught to think of himself as defective or broken.



  • What a great perspective! It reminds me of the term we used to use for "able-bodied" folks back when I was in the chair- "TAB's" which stands for "Temporarily Able Bodied"... a not-so-subtle reminder that everyone, at some point, needs help.

    By Blogger The Jedi Family of Blogs, at 11:08 AM  

  • That really gets down to the nuts and bolts of the matter!

    By Blogger Maddy, at 11:31 AM  

  • I read your blog often because your perspective is so much healthier than society's toward issues like this. One of my friends has said for years that if the services I need as a quadriplegic were set up more like the ones most people use every day, the hassles and barriers that exist would be gone....because they would not be tolerated if thought of that way (as in normal people need services.) Thanks for the breath of fresh air before I go off to make umpteen phone calls in the present system to get what I need !

    By Blogger Ruth, at 12:02 PM  

  • That is the one thing we have been VERY careful about with our girls. We do not want them to grow up thinking they are broken or less than their disabled sibling. They are just kids, just people, just like anyone else. Yes, they have their differences, but who doesn't? It doesn't make them less than they are. It just doesn't.

    By Blogger Imperfect Christian, at 1:02 PM  

  • So true, and definitely a healthier way to look at the whole society. If only we could get it to catch on...

    By Blogger Never That Easy, at 7:54 PM  

  • Thanks for the link to the Armstrong article. And your reminder that language is important. How we refer (and allow others to refer) to our autistic children/siblings/parents/friends influences both how they feel about themselves, and how those around them treat them.

    By Blogger Club 166, at 7:58 PM  

  • Best Title Ever, in my humble opinion.

    By Blogger kristina, at 9:16 PM  

  • What a great post! I love the way you write and your perspective.

    By Blogger David, at 11:17 PM  

  • Cool post and I love the description of yourself!!

    I hope you don't mind but I have added a link to your blog on mine.


    By Blogger Philip., at 5:16 AM  

  • As always, you give me more things to think about. :-)

    Thanks so much for writing this!

    By Blogger Attila the Mom, at 6:42 AM  

  • Someone with a damaged brain can't appreciate what it is like to live with an undamaged brain. After we explain it to them, they can get their brain fixed and enjoy their life without a disability. Then they don't need any services.

    By Blogger John Best, at 1:36 PM  

  • Great post! I thinkt he prevailing attitude (and it seems to be at an increased prevalence among service providers) is that needing services is cause you can't do something without them. This is also what has to be on requests for funding: you just won't get funding if you don't specify that you can't do whatever the service is supposed to be for without the service. However, I think it's really the other way round: services are there to help people live life to their fullest potential. This goes for disabled people who get specialized services, but also for the non-disabled when they use a service.

    By the way fore sam, you can't appreciate what it is like to live with a disability, so how can you judge whether you're better? I won't deny that you as a non-disabled person (I assume) probably have less trouble living in the world than I do, being blind and autistic. Well, duh!: the majority of people are non-disabled, so the world is designed with non-disabled people in mind. So I have trouble living in the world cause I'm in a minority group (or actually, several minority groups). Would you say that minorities are intrinsically defective? I wouldn't, and that's all that Blogging Against Disablism Day is all about.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:11 PM  

  • Astrid, I was disabled once and was told I needed Tommy John surgery to fix the problem so I could play golf again. I didn't ask society to swing the golf club for me. I went through the physical therapy, avoided the surgery and fixed the problem so that my golf swing was back to 100%. We know how to cure some cases of autism. Why don't you investigate that and see if you can help yourself. I'm much happier with my golf swing at 100% than I was when I couldn't even lift up the club.

    By Blogger John Best, at 8:34 PM  

  • Our kids have special educational needs, requiring screening tests to identify their "abnormality", special segregated classes and specialized teachers with special skills and training. If our kids didn't have access to these special services they would be at serious risk of not fulfilling their full potential, and the way things are, this is still a serious risk. When our kids are integrated with "normal" children in regular classes, their special needs often are not adequately met, and their needs sometimes conflict with the needs of the majority of students. What diagnosis do our kids have? Intellectual giftedness.

    By Blogger Lili Marlene, at 11:40 PM  

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