Growing a Tree

"Someone's sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago."


Perhaps one of the biggest challenges facing disability advocacy is that society insists on seeing people with disabilities as problems to be fixed, not as just people.

This comes as no surprise. For a very long time, we have used the Medical Model for approaching disability. This model asks “what’s wrong?” and “how can we fix it?” It is a completely deficit based approach and sets up the disability in question as a problem.

I have experienced this myself with my daughter and it is frustrating to no end. We recently went to a clinic appointment where we were made to meet with a speech therapist, despite our requesting to skip that portion of the visit. We told that speech therapist we had no concerns for our daughter, but she insisted on thrusting the Medical Model on us, and it felt awful. She spent a good 45 minutes explaining to us all our child couldn’t do, all she did wrong. She proceeded to give us suggestions for things to “fix” these problems.

Think about that. We went in there with no concerns or worries. We left with pages (literally) of suggestions of things we could do to “fix” our daughter’s perceived  “problems.”

No discussion of what she can actually do, no discussion of what she does well. No discussion of what we’re doing that actually works.

The Medical Model is alive and well today, folks. Yes, it has its place. Yes, diagnoses are important, as is appropriate medical care. But the danger is applying it where it need not be applied, and it lies in using it to define people as problems.

What I’m advocating for is a balance. Identify the unique needs of an individual, and instead of labeling them as problems, find ways of using paid and natural supports so that person can achieve his or her goals.

His or her goals. Not society’s defined goals. Not a school district’s defined goals. Not a doctor’s defined goals.

Indeed, when it comes to defining people’s “problems,” it often seems like they are not problems at all.

In a world full of fashionable slip-on, velcro, zippered, or buckled shoes, do we all need to learn to tie laces? In a world full of technological devices that can assist with communication, is it really a problem if someone cannot speak verbally? And so on.

What do you think? Is there danger in defining people as problems and by their problems? Which doors would open if disability was no longer seen as something to fix, but as simply a different way of doing things? As parents, do we perpetuate the “problem”?



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