In today’s world, individuals with disabilities can be found in every corner of the globe, encompassing all levels of society. The number of people with disabilities is continuously growing, and the causes and consequences of disability vary across different regions. These variations stem from diverse socio-economic circumstances and the varying provisions made by states to ensure the well-being of their citizens. Disability policy has evolved over the past two centuries, reflecting different eras’ changing living conditions, social norms, and economic policies.
However, societal factors such as ignorance, neglect, superstition, and fear have historically hindered the development of support systems for persons with disabilities. This article explores the progression of disability policy, the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities, and the fundamental concepts that underpin current disability frameworks.
Fundamental Concepts in Disability Policy
Several fundamental concepts form the basis of disability policy today, building upon the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons. These concepts have evolved during the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons and aim to address individual needs while rectifying societal shortcomings:
1. Disability and Handicap
The term “disability” encompasses various functional limitations arising from physical, intellectual, sensory, or mental impairments and medical conditions. Impairments may be permanent or temporary. Handicap refers to the obstacles that hinder an individual’s participation in community life on equal terms. It highlights the environmental deficiencies and societal activities, such as communication, education, and information, which impede the full inclusion of persons with disabilities.
2. Evolving Terminology
The disability community and professionals in the field have critiqued past terminology for its medical and diagnostic approach, often obscuring the imperfections of society. In 1980, the World Health Organization introduced the International Classification of Impairment, Disability, and Handicap (ICIDH) to provide a more precise and holistic perspective. ICIDH categorises impairment, disability, and handicap as distinct entities. However, concerns persist that ICIDH may still be overly focused on the individual and medical aspects, necessitating ongoing revisions to address these concerns.
Key Components of Disability Policy:
To foster inclusive societies and ensure the rights of individuals with disabilities, disability policy focuses on several core elements:
This encompasses actions aimed at preventing the occurrence of impairments or preventing impairments from resulting in permanent functional limitations or disabilities. Prevention measures include healthcare, immunisation campaigns, safety regulations, occupational health, pollution control, and conflict prevention.
Rehabilitation processes enable individuals with disabilities to attain and maintain their optimal physical, sensory, intellectual, psychiatric, and social functioning. Rehabilitation may involve providing or restoring functions, compensating for loss or limitations, and fostering independence. It spans a range of interventions, from basic rehabilitation to vocational support.
3. Equalisation of Opportunities
This principle advocates for the availability of societal systems, services, information, and activities to all individuals, especially those with disabilities. Equal rights require that individuals’ needs serve as the foundation for societal planning, ensuring inclusive participation. Persons with disabilities can remain in their local communities and receive support within regular education, health, employment, and social service structures. As rights are achieved, societies should raise expectations for individuals with disabilities, empowering them to fulfil their responsibilities as members of society.
The evolution of disability policy over the past two centuries reflects the progress made in understanding the rights and capabilities of individuals with disabilities. From rudimentary care to inclusive education and rehabilitation, society has recognised the importance of providing equal opportunities for all. By embracing these principles and striving for continuous improvement, societies can foster environments where individuals with disabilities can thrive and contribute fully.
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