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...
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.