Global Attitudes to Disability

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The purpose of this academic piece is to explore global views of disability within a historical and contemporary context. The assignment will consider the impact of economic, religious and cultural influence and consider how models of disability also perceive disability. The rationale for the selection of subject choice is that the author works within the Spinal Cord Injuries (SCI) arena and so disability and views of disability are relevant to person centered care. The majority of clinical research has traditionally focused on the functional limitations of people with impairments. However, a global perspective can provide a powerful insight into views of disability. Mutual respect and understanding can contribute to an inclusive society and the identification of knowledge, beliefs and attitudes to the disabled can be beneficial in providing educational needs and public information.

Literature states that globally, a billion people have some form of disability; which equates to 15% of the population (World Health Organization (WHO), 2011, p7). This amount exceeded predicted figures by the World Health Survey which estimated 785 million (WHO, 2004, p8); and the Global Burden of Disease report which anticipated 975 million. Of the quoted billion people, 190 million individuals will have a severe disability such as tetraplegia or blindness (WHO, 2008, p15). It is suggested that this number is set to rise significantly over the next 25 years; both within Eastern and Western societies. This can be attributed to an ageing population whereby older persons are at an increased risk of developing a disability. Additionally there is a global increase in chronic health conditions such as diabetes, mental illness, cardiovascular disease and cancer which can lead to decreased independent functioning (Priestley, 2001, p3). It is suggested that almost every person will experience some form of impairment at some point throughout their lifetime, on either a temporary or permanent basis (WHO, 2011, p7). Disability is a natural part of the human experience whether it is due to illness, injury or aging.

The concept of disability is described as contentious and a complex web of social, cultural, medical, historical and experiential perspectives. Definitions of disability are vast and are said to differ depending on who is defining disability and for what purpose (Smart, 2001, p225). Cultural analysis identifies that the term disability refers most precisely to an inability to perform tasks that are illogically bounded from daily life (Johnson, 2004, p59). The definition of disability provided by the Equality Act (Department of Health (DOH), 2010) states that a person has a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment which has a long term effect on their ability to perform day-to-day activities. Definitions are vital, not only because they are influential in the recognition of people with a disability/impairment but also because they affect self identity and affirm a common language (Johnson, 2004, p60). Groce (1999, p5) states that disability as a united concept is not universal and many languages lack an actual word for disability. Instead these societies group people with similar impairments. Because so much of the experience of disability comes from outside the condition itself, people in the global disability rights movement emphasise that disability is culturally defined (Chiu and Chan, 2007, p159). Coleman (2006, p17) agrees with this statement and proposes that attempts to provide a universal definition are flawed because they suggest that cultural practices, environment and standards are similar. When in fact, these will differ significantly depending on where the person is living.

Patterns of disability in specific countries are attributed to environmental and health trends and other factors such as road traffic incidents, substance abuse, diet, natural disasters and conflict. Uneven economic and political...
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