Disability in Society

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Disability is an umbrella term for individuals that do not have the ability to function societal roles ‘normally’ in comparison to a fully functioning individual, ranging from mental, physical and sensory disability. The World Health Organisation described three stages of disability; impairment: a deviation from the norm, resulting in poor functioning or development, disability: a limitation experienced because of an impairment and handicap: a disadvantage imposed because of an impairment of disability (Spiller, 1982:56) all of which show the stages of vulnerability endured. The extension of impairment and disability to disability and handicap is to accommodate people with intellectual and sensory impairments. Bartel and Guskin (1971) explain that through the social settings of normality and the expectation to maintain desirable attributes, ‘those who fail to conform to these attributes are labelled deviant’ (Spiller, 1982:56) thus, Haber and Smith (1971) add, ‘the general tendency of the able-bodied population is to treat a disability as an extension of the sick role’ (Spiller, 1982:57). The ‘sick role’ was a term coined by Functionalist Talcot Parsons who believed that alongside being ill, privileges and obligations were set alongside the individuals to want to get better if they are to receive benefits. This, he believed, led to deviance which disturbs society and needs to be policed. Like criminals, the disabled labelled with the sick role are treated with the expectation or ‘relative legitimacy’, an ‘agreement to ‘pay the price’ in accepting certain disabilities and the obligation to get well’ (Parsons, 1951:312) which in the nature of their disablement will disable or handicap them more. Functionalists believe that being disabled is a tragedy and that impairment and disability are glued together due to the disability being located within the individual, which leads to inevitable restrictions, which can be relieved by welfare intervention such as social...
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