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Disabled People in Society

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This essay is part one of the coursework for Challenging Disabilities. Disabled people have the right to participate in all aspects of society the same as non disabled person. When one is disabled this means to be discriminated against which involves social seclusion and restriction. In view of this, disabled people experience barriers when society does not acknowledge a person’s impairment which can prevent full participation of disabled people in society. Firstly I will briefly introduce the social model in recognising these barriers. Secondly this essay looks in particular at the three interrelated barriers: physical and technological environments, social and recreational environments and economic environments. The relative effects of these barriers will be explored throughout this essay and brought together towards the conclusion.

There are many barriers that disabled people are faced with in society everyday of their lives. A disabled individual will have barriers because the environment is unable to accommodate the individual’s differences. The social model emphasises the barriers of participation of disabled people in society and the environment, it does not focus only on the individual with the impairment or disability but takes into account that the society oppresses and excludes disabled people. The social model also recognises that the disabled individual has the power to speak out and apply new legislations.

Firstly, physical and technological environments which include housing, transport and access to public amenities as well as information technology are barriers enabling disabled people full participation in society. People with mobility impairments have an obvious disposition when it comes to housing. Morris and Winn suggested the “the housing inequalities of disabled people are evident from the incidence of homelessness amongst disabled people in the population”. (cited in (Johnstone, 1998:139) There is a lack of purpose built housing or housing that have been adapted for disabled people. Many houses are built for two legged people not for chairs on wheels. Doors are a major barrier for wheel chair users, inside the home and outside, assistance would be needed to open many doors. Accessible features within the home would need to be in place such as wide enough doorways, kitchens, bathroom and toilets would need to be modified to meet the needs of the individual. (ibid.) Social exclusion is evident not only in housing as well as transport and public amenities which have not been considerate to everybody’s needs. In regards to transport in Britain not all disabled people would have a private car to support their needs as many individuals would not have the income to run a vehicle hence access to public transport is essential. Transport needs to be made assessable there are still problems with high level seating and narrow steps. (Barnes et al, 1999) Information Communication and Technology (ICT) available to disabled people through community education centres, schools and colleges is limited because of funding, along with this there is a need for appropriate training. (Johnstone, 1998). Having access to a computer and relevant software can open up new doors for the disabled person.

Secondly, other barriers relating to the disabled person to participate in society is the social and recreational environments. This also relates to the leisure industry. Everyone is entitled to enjoy their ‘free time’. There is a stigma that people with disabilities would not like to participate in fun leisure activities. It is a human need that everyone does need to relax from our everyday responsibilities. It has been suggested in Johnstone, 1998 that recreation is a favourite pastime outside the home and workplace. The social and recreational environment has similar barriers to that of housing, transport and public buildings which is access. To have access to recreational facilities encourages the freedom of the person to obtain a balanced healthy lifestyle. To be able to enjoy ‘free time’ relates to the persons employment situation to provide the funds for getting out and about. If a disabled person becomes unemployed essential equipment and aids which are provided for mobility during employment may have to be returned hence the disabled persons ‘free time’ is to no avail. This creates social segregation of disabled people limiting their participation in society. (Barnes et al, 1999). It has also been mentioned in Barnes et al, 1999 that often disabled people are ‘shunned’ in the hotel and catering industry as they are seen as bad for business. This is not a good reflection of the 1995 Discrimination Act. (ibid.)

Thirdly, another barrier which alters the participation of disabled people in society is the economic environment which includes employment and access to benefits and income. Many disabled people experience exclusion at the work place resulting in underemployment. The reasons behind this are the access of training, learning the skills necessary to participate in the workforce. Additionally once in the workforce there is a lack of opportunities for promotion. With less skills brings about lower paid work for the disabled person. Furthermore with the development of ‘industrial infrastructure of western society has developed without reference to the needs of people with impairments’. (Barnes et al, 1999:112) The barriers of inaccessible buildings, housing and the transport system all hinder disabled people being unable to achieve desirable employment. (ibid). This only emphasis the fact that being unemployed the disabled person will have to be dependent on benefits therefore independent living becomes impossible. Specific benefits are those to meet the cost of living with a disability. From the readings of Johnstone 1998 the social security system is very complex, the disabled individual will have to become means tested. A disabled person becomes restricted this is unfortunate as it holds back the ability of a disabled person to live in mainstream society.

In conclusion the effects of these barriers all interlink with each other. It is obvious that there is a difference in environments to that of a non-disabled person to who is disabled. The architectural principles underlining these barriers needs to be shifted and is an ongoing process. For a disabled person it is going to take some time, maybe into the next century before there is some parallel of equality to that of a non-disabled person living in society. Unfortunately there is also a rise in population and in reality there is a higher number of aging people. Nevertheless all disabled people are in their right to have equal opportunity to access to employment, training, transport and housing, benefits and communication (ICT) as well as participating in mainstream society. It is up to the voices of the disabled people and the policy makers to remove these major barriers from society.
(1092 words)

Barnes, C., Mercer, G., Shakespheare, T. (1999) Exploring Disability: A Sociological Introduction, Cambridge, Polity Press.

Johnstone, D. (1998) An introduction to Disability Studies. London, David Fulton Publishers.

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