KUCHING: Entrenched societal attitudes towards persons with disabilities (PWDs) are among the biggest barriers to include them as active and productive members of society.
“PWDs are created when people with impairments experience disabling factors in society or the environment they live in,” senior Disability Equality Training (DET) trainer Peter Tan told participants attending the state-level seminar on supported employment for PWDs here yesterday.
Tan uses a wheelchair himself as a result of a spinal cord injury.
To explain the difference between impairment and disability, Tan gave the example of people who need spectacles to read the newspaper.
A person who is short-sighted is ‘visually impaired’ but the impairment does not become a disability until they decide to read the tiny print of a newspaper, which can only be read with the aid of corrective lenses.
Without lenses, they would be ‘visually disabled’ but with lenses, they are no longer considered disabled as they can read the newspaper like anyone else.
Tan also spoke about the benefits of moving from an ’individual model’ to a ‘social model’ to create a more inclusive society.
The medical or individual model is based on the premise that PWDs are the problem, and must conform through rehabilitation or treatment to be ‘normal’ like everyone else in society.
However, this approach is limiting because it assumes that PWDs are not normal and have to meet certain requirements before being allowed to participate fully in society, such as a person in a wheelchair not being able to go to school until he can walk because the school has a lot of stairs to climb.
A more inclusive model is the social model which assumes that disabilities are a product of society and the environment instead of the individual. It calls for ‘open box’ and ‘breakthrough thinking’ to break physical and mental barriers so as to empower PWDs to participate fully in society.
Tan said while there is a place and need for rehabilitation for PWDs, it should not be used as an excuse to prevent them participating in and engaging with society.
The seminar was attended by about 150 people representing various NGOs, government agencies and community based rehabilitation centres (PDKs) around the state.