Understanding Disabilities

Important Dates in History
400 B.C. Hippocrates, the Greek physician, wrote the first work on epilepsy disputing that the disorder was a curse or caused by the gods. He believed that epilepsy was a brain disorder. "It is thus with regard to the disease called Sacred: it appears to me to be nowise more divine or more sacred than other diseases, but has a natural cause from the originates like other affections. Men regard its nature and cause as divine from ignorance and wonder, because it is not at all like to other diseases." 1601 Elizabethan Poor Laws were passed from 1583 to 1601 in order to aid the deserving poor, orphaned and crippled. The 1601 law was a consolidation of prior legislation and laid some of the burden on society by charging a "poor rate" on owners of property. Queen Elizabeth's government divided the poor into three groups. The disabled poor were placed in the group labeled "helpless poor." 1751 The Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, with the help of Benjamin Franklin, is the first hospital to create a special section for the treatment of mental illness and mental retardation. In 1756, these patients would be chained to the walls of the basement and put on display for a fee. 1773 Virginia establishes the first hospital solely for the treatment of "idiots, lunatics and other people of unsound mind."

Important Dates in History
1817 Thomas H. Gallaudet established the first free American school for the deaf and hearing impaired in 1817. The school was built in Hartford, Connecticut and was named the Connecticut Asylum at Hartford for the Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons and later became known as the American School for the Deaf. Gallaudet was also an advocate of manual training in all schools. Vocational education was added to his school's curriculum in 1822. 1832 The Perkins School for the Blind is opened in Boston, Massachusetts by Samuel Gridley Howe. Howe became the country's leading expert on educating the disabled. In 1848, Howe establishes the Massachusetts School for Idiotic Children and Youth, one of the first of its kind in the United States. His most famous student was Laura Bridgman, a blind and deaf girl, who became very popular with the public. 1841 Dorothea Dix advocates for separation of the disabled incarcerated in penitentiaries and poorhouses. Her efforts lead to the establishment of 32 state run mental institutions across the United States. 1968 The Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) requires that buildings and facilities that are designed, constructed, or altered with Federal funds, or leased by a Federal agency, comply with Federal standards for physical accessibility. 1973 The Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by Federal agencies, in programs receiving Federal financial assistance, in Federal employment, and in the employment practices of Federal contractors. The standards for determining employment discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act are the same as those used in title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Important Dates in History
1975 The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEaA) (formerly called P.L. 94-142 or the Education for all Handicapped Children Act of 1975) requires public schools to make available to all eligible children with disabilities a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment appropriate to their individual needs. 1984 The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984 generally requires polling places across the United States to be physically accessible to people with disabilities for federal elections. Where no accessible location is available to serve as a polling place, a political subdivision must provide an alternate means of casting a ballot on the day of the election. 1986 Air Carrier Access Act passed. The act forbids the discrimination of people with disabilities regarding air travel and provides provisions on access and accommodations. 1988 Students at Gallaudet University protest for the selection of a deaf University president. Irving King Jordan is eventually appointed as the first deaf president of the university. Civil Rights Restoration Act "It also specifies that an institution which receives federal financial assistance is prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability or age in a program or activity which does not directly benefit from such assistance."

Important Dates in History

1989 Original ADA legislation introduced into Congress and advocacy groups advocate for its passage nationwide. 1990 President George Bush signs the ADA on July 26. The American with Disabilities Act was a widesweeping civil rights legislation giving protections to individuals with disabilities. Equal opportunity was established for employment, transportation, telecommunications, public accommodations and the state and federal government's services. 1992 International Day of Disabled Persons established by UN to create awareness and understanding. 1995 American Association of People with Disabilities is founded in Washington, D.C. "The largest national nonprofit cross-disability member organization in the United States, dedicated to ensuring economic self-sufficiency and political empowerment for the more than 56 million Americans with disabilities." 1999 Supreme Court rules on Olmstead v. L.C. and E.W. stating that the ADA requires public agencies to provide services in the most integrated setting.

Definitions of Disability

“The inability to perform an activity in a normal way as a result of an impairment, such as not being able to walk due to a weakness or paralysis” -The University of Chicago Medical Dictionary “A condition that curtails to some degree a person's ability to carry on his normal pursuits. A disability may be partial or total, and temporary or permanent.” -Lombard Canada Glossary

Myths About Disability
Myth Disability is a devastating personal tragedy. Truth The lives of disabled people are not tragic. What often disables people is the attitudes they encounter and the environment in which they live and work. Myth Most disabled people are unable to have relationships. Truth Many disabled people, like non-disabled people, make choices about marriage, long-term relationships and having children. Myth Disability and illness are interrelated. Truth Disabled people can get the same illnesses as other people. Being disabled in and of itself is NOT an indication of poor heath. Myth People with disabilities live very different lives than people without disabilities. Truth Overall, people with disabilities live the same as you and I. Although, some ways of doing things may be a little bit different depending on the type and severity of the disability. For example, someone with limited use of their arms and legs can drive, but their car will be fitted with hand controls for gas and brakes and possibly a special handle to grip on the steering wheel.

Myths About Disability
Myth Disabled people are dependent on others. Truth Disabled people sometimes need help with some things - too often because of an inadequately designed environment. Nonetheless disabled people strive to be independent. Myth Blind people have a sixth sense. Truth Some people use and refine their other senses to compensate. Myth Disabled people are courageous. Truth Disabled people, like non-disabled people, cope with life in their own individual way. Myth Wheelchair users are not mobile. Truth Wheelchair users do get out and about. Some usually use wheelchairs, others only when necessary. Myth Deaf people cannot speak. Truth Deafness does not affect the vocal cords, although it can affect a person's ability to hear and monitor the sounds they make. Some people who are deaf make a conscious choice not to use their voice while others choose to speak. The type and degree of hearing loss as well as the age of the person when they became deaf (i.e. before or after learning to speak English) also influences their speech.
*Adapted from: The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland www.equalityni.org & Michigan Community Service Commission

Americans With Disabilities Act (1990)
Americans with Disabilities Act. (n.d) In Wikipedia. Retrieved October 28, 2008, from http://www.wikipedia.com

• “Civil rights” for people with disabilities • Allows people with disabilities to expect reasonable accommodations in public places, to allow them to participate more fully in life activities • Is intentionally broad in defining “disability” and “accommodation,” recognizing that every situation and person is unique

Title I: Employment

• Employers shall not discriminate against a qualified employee on the basis of a disability; employers must provide reasonable accommodations
– Job applicants – Employees – Promotions

Title II: Public Services and Public Transportation
• Services in all levels of government must be made accessible to people with disabilities
– Covington v. McNeese:
• President of the public university stated that “the disabled had no fundamental right to access the campuses of public universities.”

• Public transportation must be provided that is accessible to people with disabilities
– MetroAccess – Car rentals – All other commuter authorities

Title III: Public Accommodations
• Accessibility is guaranteed to people with disabilities in all public places, such as:
– – – – – – Restaurants Office buildings Hospitals Hotels/motels Movie theaters Schools/educational facilities

• •

All “new construction” (after 1992) must be compliant with ADA Older establishments must comply to the extent that the proposed renovation is “readily achievable” and “easily accomplished without much difficulty or expense.” • Historic properties (on the National Register of Historic Places) are not bound by ADA if the proposed renovation would significantly affect a historic feature of the building

Title IV: Telecommunications
• All telecommunication companies in the U.S. must provide functionally equivalent services to people with disabilities, particularly those with speech and hearing disabilities • Led to installation of teletypewriters (TTY) and telecommunication devices for the deaf (TDD) • Telecommunication Relay Services- dual party communication and translation • Internet, texting, IM, and e-mail, as well as video conferencing has revolutionized communications between the deaf and hearing communities

Criticism of ADA
• Defines disability in a way that may allow people who don’t need accommodations to receive them (too broad) i.e. minor neck and back pain • “Professional plaintiffs” make money by collecting damages from non-compliant businesses • Some employers might generally avoid hiring people with disabilities to avoid having to comply with the provisions • Provisions for people with cognitive difficulties/mental disabilities are not well defined • It has become the burden of people with disabilities to see that it is enforced
– Authorities are unlikely to go after every establishment found to violate ADA standards

Social Work and Disabilities

Proper Etiquette (Not Just for Social Workers!)
•Like your mother always said, it's not polite to stare. •Use common sense, if you don't know the person, it's none of your business how or why they are disabled •When talking, look at the person when you are speaking, not at the person they are with. Yes, the blind can tell when you aren't talking to them. •Don't worry about the common phrases you use, disabled people use them too: i.e. “see you later” and “did you hear about so-and-so?” •Unless the person is hard of hearing, do NOT raise your voice when you are talking to them •Don't assume that someone who is disabled CAN'T do a task or activity, it is perfectly okay to ask if they can or how they would if it is done in a polite manner and is necessary •Unless you know the person, don't ask things to cure your curiousity— google those questions. •Do not pet or try to distract service animals •If someone is hard of hearing or deaf, don't play “can you hear me now” and if someone is visually impaired or blind, don't play “how many fingers am I holding up”--and keep your children from doing so as well.

Things to Consider…
• Disability from birth vs. acquired disability • Personal definitions and goals (start where the client is) • Every disabled person/disability is different, even if the diagnosis is the same! • Adaptation and STRENGTHS
– What has already been tried? – What has worked? – What services are out there?

• Friends and support networks • “Normal” function vs. loss of function • Psychological issues:
– PTSD, depression (especially relevant to acquired disability)

Available Services • Physical therapy
– CP, autism, MR, etc.

• • • • •

Occupational therapy IEPs (check with school’s special ed) Counseling Behavioral management plans Speech therapy
– ADHD, CP, autism

• Service dogs (not just for blind people)

Service Dogs


“Universal Access”

• What does this symbol mean to you? •Why is it a useful symbol? •Why is it not a useful symbol? •What messages does it send about the disabled community? •How does the sign contribute to popular misconceptions about disabled people? •Is there a better alternative?

Use of Language
What terms do we use to describe people who have physical or mental problems? What do these words imply about this community? How are some of these terms incorrect/misleading? How do they contribute to perceptions of disability? How do words impact our clients in social work practice? As social workers, what can we do to be sensitive to our clients?

• • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Disabled Handicapped Physically impaired Crippled Lame Differently-abled Deaf Hearing impaired Deaf and dumb Blind Mentally ill Psycho Insane Crazy

Where to Go From Here?
•Society in general •Social work as a profession •The helping professions as a whole •Additional services •Is the ADA enough? •What can we improve? •Questions?

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