Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Who creates disability?

Amid the weekend events, Santa Claus parades and early Christmas shopping, you may have missed the pronouncement of December 3 as the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This UN designated day was acknowledged and proclaimed in many jurisdictions including BC but received little in the way of coverage. I read a couple of news releases but mainstream media was pretty limited.

Does this lack of coverage surprise me? Not really; but it does disappoint me. One might have expected something more would be said about the advances society has made since the first International Year of Disabled Persons 30 years ago. There has been much to celebrate but there is so much more to accomplish.

In the world of workers’ compensation, we see many injuries that cause work-related disability. Unfortunately, we have little time to focus on what that disability really means to the person (and family) affected or to think about what actually creates the disability.

I know there are very specific legal and policy terms for disability. In our legislation, the Workers Compensation Act speaks about Temporary Total Disability, Temporary Partial Disability, and Permanent Partial Disability; we even have a reference in Section 16 (vocational rehabilitation) to “handicap”. For a moment, however, suspend this legalistic terminology and think about disability in terms of the person in society.

A person with a disability is first and foremost a person. He or she is entitled to respect, dignity and inclusion. In the context of workers’ compensation, work may have caused the injury but the consequence for the person with a disability is really not created by the injury; rather, the degree of disablement is created by our societal response. We--you, me, Cousin Eddy, the worker’s employer and the family next door-- we make up society and we create that societal response.

As the World Health Organization puts it, “… disability is a complex phenomenon, reflecting an interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives”. I’m not saying there are easy answers here but I am saying that as society becomes more aware, accepting and accommodating of persons with disabilities, the quality of their lives and the richness of our society will grow. From a workers' compensation perspectives, safe and timely return to productive, durable real employment epitomizes inclusion and has the potential to reduce disability.

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities reminds us, the relatively and temporarily able members of society, to champion the elimination of both the proximal and societal causes of disabilities.

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