TODAY -

How do you see 'disability' today?

Lamneihoi Vaiphei *

 International Day for Persons with Disabilities



Every year, 3rd December is marked as International Day for Persons with Disabilities with a specific theme given by United Nations which is envisaged to contribute towards the welfare of persons with disabilities. Many welfare programmes have been initiated and recently our state government implemented an umbrella scheme 'Chief Ministergi Shotharabasingi Tengbang' for the welfare and development of persons with disabilities.

However, the question lies on whether this 'development' entails development in our thoughts and perspective about 'disability'. This year, the theme lies on "Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality". Before taking a pace on this, it is significant to be clear about whom we are trying to 'empower' and understand what 'disability' and 'person with disabilities' means.

Disability is an evolving concept and through time we gradually move from charity, medical model to social model; which does not seem to contribute to the individual to evolve as a person and develop his/her own abilities. In general, disability is understood as when a person cannot perform or function in a way which is conventional and what is regarded as "normal".

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2006 defines disability as "Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others" (Art. 1, 2007, pg.4). Thus, disability is understood as an impairment which in interaction with the environment leads to inability to achieve functioning upto full potential.

However, how long will we see disability as a phenomenon of 'inability'? It is, now, imperative that we take a paradigm shift towards this phenomenon and the models used in putting things into perspective. It is high time to shift from all the conventional models (charity, medical, social models) to strengths model of defining disability.

The strengths model focuses on the abilities and aspiration of the person and its environmental resources. It gives new hope to persons with disability and a new outlook on life by addressing their strengths and resilience through adversity. The strengths-based approach emphasizes on the positive attributes of an individual with a belief that he/she has untapped mental, physical, emotional, social and spiritual abilities that can be expressed irrespective of how modest they may be judged by others.

Attention to the strengths an individual has, rather than his/her failings, reveals that he/she is more likely to develop along the lines of those strengths (Weick et al., 1989). In the past couple of years, I conducted a narrative study on "Strengths-based perspective with persons with disabilities: A narrative inquiry", to explore the strengths within persons with disabilities in Churachandpur, Manipur.

Here, by strengths, we refer to the all positive attributes and capabilities of an individual; what individual have learned about themselves, others and their world as they have struggled, coped with, and battled abuse, trauma, illness, confusion, oppression, and even their own mistakes.

Along the study, it is found that acceptance of oneself further leads to exploration of more strengths and enables an individual to have a sense of aspiration in life. This aspiration, in turn, acts as strength and encourages the individual to live with full potential rather than just exist in life.

In the study, the participants have constructed strengths as 'something which has helped me in overcoming challenges' and 'activity which I like doing and which keeps me away from tension'. It is found that multiple strengths exist in the participants and their environment, viz. their family and community.

When the participants indulge in the activities they like, it enhances their skills and it helps them in coping with their impairment and other challenges in life such as financial issues. Spirituality has been predominantly used as a strength by the participants and their families in coping with their challenges in life.

To conclude, it is through exploring the strengths of persons with disabilities that the real empowerment can be initiated. Through decades and till now, we tend to see persons with disabilities as 'needy'. However, this year, let us try to look at the same phenomenon from a different window and have a change in our perspective to see persons with disabilities as 'source of strengths'.

When we all join hands to facilitate in exploring their strengths, inclusiveness and equality will ultimately manifest. Therefore, exploring STRENGTHS is all we need to empower persons with disabilities, create an inclusive and just society.


* Lamneihoi Vaiphei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a graduate in MSW in Disability Studies and Action from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai and can be reached at lamneihoivaiphei(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on December 04, 2018.



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