- engaging Community
- equipping Deacons
Greg is a 52 year old man who has a wife and three grown children. He had a job as an appraiser working for a good firm in the city, and a house in a quiet suburb. Eight years ago, Greg sustained a brain injury in a car accident which left him physically paralyzed from the waist down. Greg now suffers from short term memory loss – he can remember everything before the accident, but not after. His brain does not communicate as it once did, leaving Greg unable to fully control his actions or his speech. Of course, Greg gets frustrated with, and angry at his disability, and often has bouts of aggression which unintentionally intimidate and scare others. His family knew him as a different man and struggle to relate to him now – this too makes Greg sad. He finds that people either stare at him and his physical deformities, avoid eye contact, or speak loudly and slowly to him, treating him like a child. He is dependent on others for most things, but not everything, as many people quickly assume.
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It is difficult to find a general definition of disability because there are many forms of disabilities. A human rights model for describing disabilities focuses more on environments, systems of support and the exercise of rights, rather than on functional limitations of an individual.(1)
It might be more helpful, then, to look at several types of disabilities in order to unpack some of the characteristics of a disability, as well as the barriers that exist for people with disabilities.
Types of Disabilities
There is a broad range of disabilities, both physical and mental, that impact a person’s sense of self worth and their involvement with, and contribution to a community. Within this range are developmental, learning and other physical disabilities, including hearing, sight, speech, agility, and mobility disabilities. People may face the challenges of mental illnesses such as bipolar disorders, schizophrenia and depression. There are people who seem to function like others but deal privately with profound challenges because they are living with "hidden" disabilities. These may be chronic conditions such as cancer, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, spinal bifida, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, arthritis, heart disease and others. The highest numbers of reported disability for persons living in Canada are found in the area of mobility.(2)
Those who have a disability may experience the following (this list is not exclusive): difficulties in physical mobility, understanding or being understood, finding a job or keeping one, learning new information or skills, self care, and other daily living skills.
“There are approximately 4.5 million Canadians with disabilities and unfortunately many continue to live in extreme poverty, are unemployed or underemployed and lack adequate disability supports that would enable their ability to work, volunteer and live life to its fullest, like all other Canadian citizens. Rates of violence and abuse against people with disabilities, in particular women with disabilities, are among the highest for any group in Canadian society. We know that for Aboriginal Canadians with disabilities these rates are even higher. According to the International Labour Organization, the annual loss of global Gross Domestic Product due to the exclusion of persons with disabilities from the labour market is between US$1.37 trillion and US$1.94 trillion."(3)
People with disabilities still face barriers and discrimination which prevent them from participating or contributing as equal members of society. For example, a child with a learning disability may have difficulty engaging other children in play or conversation. She might also have problems with her family or in relationships. Those difficulties sometimes make her feel very anxious, discouraged or angry, feelings certainly not limited to those with a disability. She may also feel ashamed, embarrassed, or misunderstood, and may try to hide her frustrations. She might be perceived, however, as being moody and uncooperative. Those who do not experience a disability or have little knowledge of another’s disability might misunderstand, possibly leading to insensitivity or unfair judgments about her and her behaviour.
Relationship between poverty and disability
There is a strong correlation between poverty and people, particularly women, with disabilities. A pervasive, but not exclusive, component of poverty is the underemployment of persons with disabilities, especially those who are sole income providers. People with disabilities are often discriminated against when they search for jobs. Furthermore, if they are able to secure a job (which helps to pay for the additional medical expenses many persons with disabilities incur), it is often with a lower wage, and the income support programs disappear (including their benefits, such as social assistance and disability pensions).(4)
Abuse and violence towards those who with disabilities
The people most vulnerable to abuse – whether verbal, physical, sexual or other –are those with disabilities, particularly women who have profound disabilities. This is mostly because of their dependence on others to care for them. While a disability can make it more difficult for a woman to escape or report abuse, social attitudes towards persons with disabilities are probably a bigger factor in increased vulnerability.
There are many varying kinds of abuse:(5)
DMC wants to encourage a comprehensive community ministry model which incorporates justice and advocacy. When we meet people with disabilities, we might feel most equipped to respond with charity, taking care of their immediate, physical needs. This response is often important and necessary.
DMC, however, wants to encourage you to wider action. In walking with people who have disabilities, we also suggest seeking opportunities for the following: