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What are at least three problems associated with viewing disability as a binary condition rather than as a continuum? Also, please research a case of disability (physical, cognitive or mental) discrimination that is in the news today. What makes that case discrimination and what social welfare policy, if any, is being broken? How could it be resolved?

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The very term disability lends itself to thinking of conditions as binary. As a teacher of language, I break that word down into dis-, meaning not and abled. So labeling someone as having a disability means that they are not abled . I much prefer to consider people...

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The very term disability lends itself to thinking of conditions as binary. As a teacher of language, I break that word down into dis-, meaning not and abled. So labeling someone as having a disability means that they are not abled. I much prefer to consider people as having challenges. They might have physical challenges, mental challenges, social challenges, etc. Just a simple change in nomenclature opens up the mind to considering the continuum in question here.

Considering people as existing on a continuum opens up the possibility of hope. Labeling a person as having mental challenges in a binary sense focuses on the things this person cannot do. ("You have been diagnosed with mental challenges, therefore you cannot do these things.") But considering mental challenges as existing on a continuum of abilities offers hope. While a person with mental challenges may not be able to perform certain tasks, he can learn how to accomplish all of these other mental tasks. There are special education teachers, for example, who work specifically with students with Down Syndrome and similar conditions to teach reading skills in a way that makes sense to this particular set of learners. Though it looks different from typical instruction, they have enjoyed great success. This is because the focus has been placed on the continuum and on hope.

Similarly, a continuum of ability allows for success. A binary labeling is set and finished. The idea is that a person exists with a condition which cannot be changed. And while the condition itself may be permanent, a continuum of ability offers the idea of progress. There is flexibility in the range of abilities. While the child with Down Syndrome may struggle with speech, she can progress into increasingly more understandable speech with hard work and practice. This is encouraging to those with various challenges.

A continuum of abilities also helps others to see people with challenges as unique individuals. Each person with Down Syndrome (or autism or cerebral palsy or any other diagnosis) is as unique as any two people without that condition. They enjoy different things, are challenged by different things, and have different health challenges. Therefore, each person with any particular condition is capable of learning a wide variety of concepts and skills—and likely different from any person with that exact same condition.

School districts around the country often find themselves in legal battles because of discriminatory acts toward students with intellectual challenges. Some children are completely segregated and not allowed contact with other children. Some have teachers who do not follow their Individualized Educational Plans, such as not providing oral reading of assessments or not breaking assignments down into more manageable chunks. The link below examines a legal case of a college student who was not granted adequate access to materials such as braille textbooks and accessible documents for class notes to assist with her visual challenges. This legal issue could have been avoided if the university had granted access to such educational resources in a timely manner.

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There are several problems involved with viewing disability as a binary rather than a continuum. First, such a view stigmatizes people who have been diagnosed with disabilities. Second, this type of view makes it seem as if those who have not been diagnosed do not have any limitations or problems. Finally, if one is not diagnosed with a disability, one could still use treatment. For example, autism is a spectrum, not a binary condition. Many people who do not meet criteria for severe autism still have issues with social communication and need help. If autism is seen merely as a binary condition, people who do not meet the criteria for a severe form of the disorder but still need help will not receive it.

A recent case of disability discrimination is detailed in a news article from the Selma Times Journal, linked below. A woman with a hearing disability walked into a Popeye's restaurant with her order written on a piece of paper to make the process of ordering more efficient. Several employees ignored her and waited on other customers in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This case could have been resolved by the staff at the restaurant waiting on the woman and reading her paper without ignoring her.

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Disability is often wrongfully understood as a binary. You either have a disability or you do not. This is likely a product of Western cultural individualism. Often individuals were viewed as having a deficit and lesser than. In this frame of thinking disabled individuals were subjected to rehabilitation and isolation. More recently disability has been thought of as a continuum. In this way of thinking everyone has strengths and abilities that vary. For example, while someone who is blind may not have sight, but they have enhanced hearing or taste. Below are three reasons why it is best to think of disabilities on a continuum rather than as a binary.

1. Some disabilities are not visible or obvious. There are thousands of different ways our abilities show themselves. However, Western society has reduced these many different reasons down to a handful of archetypes that are used to determine if someone is disabled or not. For example, people who use wheelchairs are often used as caricatures of the disabled. However, those who are not neurotypical are often made invisible. This greatly disadvantages non-neurotypical disabled people who may be in need of support but are not understood as having a disability.

2. Similarly, reducing disability to something someone has or does not have means that some governing body must be used to determine whether or not someone is labeled as disabled. Who draws that line? Who determines what another's abilities are?

3. Finally, not every culture currently understands disability as a binary. Western understandings of medicine and psychology have limited understandings of the body and mind. However, many cultures currently understand disability as a continuum and have respect for those who fall on the spectrum. For example, some cultures consider those who are transgender to have a highly esteemed place in their culture. Meanwhile, other cultures consider transgender individuals to have a disability. Therefore, a binary understanding of disability fails to consider the cultural nuances of disabilities. This has negatively impacted how healthcare has been provided to various communities. For example, the Hmong think of disabilities as connected to the soul and either a reflection of one's holiness or a spiritual misstep.

Discrimination against the disabled is often seen in today's news. A current and prominent example is President Donald Trump's notable mocking of New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski. During a campaign rally in 2015 Trump criticized Kovaleski's reporting and began to make mocking gestures that mimicked Kovaleski's condition, known as, arthrogryposis. Trump has responded by stating that he was not mocking anyone and did not know who Kovaleski was. However, many have claimed that Trump's words and actions were a form of hate speech.

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