Barriers to Equality in Disabilities

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“The craving for equality can express itself either as a desire to pull everyone down to our own level (by belittling them, excluding them, tripping them up) or as a desire to raise ourselves up along with everyone else (by acknowledging them, helping them, and rejoicing in their success)” (Neitzsche, & Handwerk, 2000, p.198). Equality at the most basic level has been defined as an idea that all human beings are of equal worth and importance, and should be equally worthy of concern and respect (Baker, Lynch, Cantillon & Walsh, 2004).

Yet within contemporary society inequality, oppression and discrimination are still being experienced by distinct groups, one of which is individual’s with physical disabilities.

History shows the legacy of oppression suffered by those with disabilities. It is widely acknowledged that ancient Greek culture informed the foundations of Western Civilisation, they believed in asserting citizenship, rights and individual dignity but only extended these rights to Greek males; all other groups were regarded as inferior. Greek culture valued bodily perfection and infanticide in the form of exposure to the elements was practiced to ensure that only the strong survived (Tooley, 1983). The Greek physician Soranos wrote “How to recognise a child that is worth raising” and that a child “should be perfect in all its parts” as cited in (Garland, 1995, p.14). Nicholli, (1990) discusses disabled children and adults being used as displays at village fairs as objects of ridicule or curiosity (as cited in Nuir & Ruggiero, 1990) while St Augustine who was credited with bringing Christianity to Britain claimed that impairment was `a punishment for the fall of Adam and other sins' (Ryan and Thomas, 1987, p.87). These examples show how civilised man has been enabled through history and culture to justify the oppression and exploration of individuals with disabilities. Also reflecting the deep rooted psychological fear of the abnormal or unknown (Melton, & Garrison, 1987) prevalent in society at that time.

Treatment for disability was dominated by using the biomedical approach (Lupton, 1994: Wear, 1992) which concentrated on treating the disability not the individual . This approach did not look at the disabilism caused by attitudes, society and the environment that impair people with physical disabilities (Miller, Parker & Gillinson, 2004). Policies, procedures and legislation have now changed and protect from discrimination and inequality are in place, mainly due to the pressure applied by Disability groups who wanted a holistic/social approach to be taken. These groups have formed to lobby for their rights and the removal of the discrimination, prejudice and barriers that prevent equality. They promote the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in every day life and the removal of the oppression suffered by those who are unable or unwilling to conform to what society and culture perceive as normal. Disability Federation Ireland and Centre for Independent Living are two of the groups who have formed and their work has ensured that the inclusion of individual with disabilities within the economic and social communities they now live is a major issue for policy makers (Doyle, 1995). Varying theories and approaches are emerging that when applied can develop an understanding of discrimination and oppression then assist care workers in addressing the issues.

According to Thompson (1997), personal, cultural and structural theory (PCS) discrimination and oppression operates on three separate levels. The personal (beliefs, assumptions and prejudice), cultural (stereotypes, portrayals) and structural level (social division, unequal groups) each is important at a single level but they also interrelate and interconnect with the other levels. This theory shows how our personal prejudice is informed by the cultural norms in our society, which is then reflected in the structural level and underpins society’s...
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