What is Disability?
A disability is a condition or function judged to be significantly impaired relative to the usual standard of an individual of their group. The term is often used to refer to individual functioning, including physical impairment, sensory impairment, cognitive impairment, intellectual impairment, mental illness, and various types of chronic disease. This usage is associated with a medical model of disability. The human rights or social model focuses on functioning as an interaction between a person and their environment, highlighting the role of a society in labelling, causing or maintaining disability within that society, including through attitudes or accessibility favoring the majority. Disabilities may come to people during their life or people may be born disabled.
On December 13, 2006, the United Nations formally agreed on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first human rights treaty of the 21st century, to protect and enhance the rights and opportunities of the world's estimated 650 million disabled people. Countries that sign up to the convention will be required to adopt national laws, and remove old ones, so that persons with disabilities would, for example, have equal rights to education, employment, and cultural life; the right to own and inherit property; not be discriminated against in marriage, children, etc; not be unwilling subjects in medical experiments.
In 1976, the United Nations launched its International Year for Disabled Persons (1981), later re-named the International Year of Disabled Persons. The UN Decade of Disabled Persons (1983-1993) featured a World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons. In 1979, Frank Bowe was the only person with a disability representing any country in the planning of IYDP-1981. Today, many countries have named representatives who are themselves individuals with disabilities. The decade was closed in an address before the General Assembly by Robert Davila. Both Bowe and Davila are deaf. In 1984, UNESCO accepted sign language for use in education of deaf children and youth.
The Disability rights movement
The Disability rights movement, led by individuals with disabilities, began in the 1970s. This Self-advocacy is often seen as largely responsible for the shift toward independent living and accessibility. The term "Independent Living" was taken from 1959 California legislation that enabled people who had acquired a disability due to polio to leave hospital wards and move back into the community with the help of cash benefits for the purchase of personal assistance with the activities of daily living. With its origins in the US civil rights and consumer movements of the late 1960s, the movement and its philosophy have since spread to other continents influencing people's self-perception, their ways of organizing themselves and their countries' social policy.
Current issues and debates surrounding 'disability' include social and political rights, social inclusion and citizenship. In developed countries the debate has moved beyond a concern about the perceived cost of maintaining dependent people with a disability to the struggle to find effective ways of ensuring people with a disability can participate in and contribute to society in all spheres of life. Many are concerned, however, that the greatest need is in developing nations -- where the vast bulk of the estimated 650 million persons with disabilities reside. A great deal of work -- from basic physical accessibility through education to self-empowerment and self-supporting employment -- is needed. In the past few years, disability rights activists have also focused on obtaining full sexual citizenship for the disabled.
Definitions and Models
The International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF), produced by the World Health Organization, distinguishes between body functions (physiological or psychological, e.g. vision) and body structures (anatomical parts, e.g. the eye and related structures). Impairment in bodily structure or function is defined as involving an anomaly, defect, loss or other significant deviation from certain generally accepted population standards, which may fluctuate over time. Activity is defined as the execution of a task or action.
The ICF lists 9 broad domains of functioning which can be affected:
• Learning and applying knowledge
• General tasks and demands
• Domestic life
• Interpersonal interactions and relationships
• Major life areas
• Community, social and civic life.
The introduction to the ICF states that a variety of conceptual models has been proposed to understand and explain disability and functioning, which it seeks to integrate:
The medical model
The medical model of disability sees the disabled person as the problem. We are to be adapted to fit into the world as it is. If this is not possible, then we are shut away in some specialised institution or isolated at home, where only our most basic needs are met. © Self Direction Community Project 2000 - 2001
The medical model views disability as a problem of the person, directly caused by disease, trauma, or other health condition which therefore requires sustained medical care provided in the form of individual treatment by professionals. In the medical model, management of the disability is aimed at "cure", or the individual’s adjustment and behavioral change that would lead to an "almost-cure" or effective cure. In the medical model, medical care is viewed as the main issue, and at the political level, the principal response is that of modifying or reforming healthcare policy.
The social model
Impairment and chronic illness exist and they sometimes pose real difficulties for us. The disability movement comprises those disabled people and supporters who understand that we are, regardless of our particular impairment, subjected to a common oppression by the non-disabled world. We are of the view that the position of disabled people and the discrimination against us are socially created. This has little to do with our impairments. As disabled people we are often made to feel it's our own fault that we are different. The difference is that some part, or parts, of our body or mind are limited in their functioning. This is an impairment. © Self Direction Community Project 2000 - 2001
The social model of disability sees the issue of "disability" mainly as a socially created problem, and basically as a matter of the full integration of individuals into society (see Inclusion (disability rights)). In this model disability is not an attribute of an individual, but rather a complex collection of conditions, many of which are created by the social environment. Hence, in this model, the management of the problem requires social action, and thus, it is the collective responsibility of society at large to make the environmental modifications necessary for the full participation of people with disabilities in all areas of social life. The issue is both cultural and ideological, requiring individual, community, and large-scale social change. Viewed from this perspective equal access for people with impairment/disability is a human rights issue of major concern.
Estimates of worldwide and country-wide numbers of individuals with disabilities are problematic. The varying approaches taken to defining disability notwithstanding, demographers agree that the world population of individuals with disabilities is very large. The World Health Organization, for example, estimates that there are as many as 600 million persons with disabilities. The United Nations estimate is 650 million. In the United States, for example, Americans with disabilities constitute the third-largest minority (after persons of Hispanic origin and African Americans); all three of those minority groups number in the 30-some millions in America. According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as of 2004, there were some 32 million adults (aged 18 or over) in the United States, plus another 5 million children and youth (under age 18). If one were to add impairments -- or limitations that fall short of being disabilities -- Census estimates put the figure at 51 million.
There is also widespread agreement among experts in the field that disability is more common in developing than in developed nations.
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