Does a person who has been labeled with a disability always have a disability? Perhaps the answer is “yes” if considered narrowly from a legal perspective (e.g., being considered a person with a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, meeting the criteria for special education and/or other services, etc.). These situations are, in essence, theoretical. A governing body decides what a disability “is” (and the definition can be changed at any time) for the purpose of ensuring civil rights, entitlements, and/or other benefits for those who meet the criteria.
In practice, however, whether a person always has a disability is more a consequence of the environment: physical, social, attitudinal, and more. For example, in our home and other environments where our son, Benjamin, has the assistive technology, supports, and accommodations he needs, his disabilities (cerebral palsy, low vision, and more) become irrelevant.
In his power wheelchair, Benjamin can get from point A to point B on his own. Using his laptop computer, with everything on the screen enlarged, he can read and learn, and can also write his school papers (since he can’t write with pen and paper). Other devices, some high-tech and some low-tech, along with a variety of supports and accommodations, enable him to be more self-reliant and live the life of his dreams.
On the other hand, if Benjamin doesn’t have the needed assistive technology, supports, and accommodations, he may be helpless and dependent and experience difficulties in learning and other activities. His disabilities go from irrelevant to “severe-to-profound,” and a bright future turns dim. It’s all about the environment. Click here to continue.
Whether a person with a disability can be gainfully employed or work as an independent producer depends less on his medical condition than on his educational level, motivation for work, and the personal, economic, and political opportunities open to him.
Thomas Szasz, MD
The Power of the Environment
New Ways of Thinking and Revolutionary Common Sense