The Importance of Independence for People with Disabilities

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Introduction: Goals of BlueWing Care Professionals

One of the primary goals of BlueWing Care Professionals is to empower individuals and families coping with a disability to live independent lives. The notion of empowerment and independence for people with disabilities is surprisingly a recent evolution in society’s understanding of and approach to people with disabilities.

Asylums and the Drive to Industrialization

For over two centuries, people with disabilities lived in asylums, forced there by societies whose primary attitude was not to see them at all. They were an innovation sparked by the Industrial Revolution. In particular, the English Poor Law [1] laid out society’s obligations to those they considered “destitute, aged, sick, or unable to care for themselves.” These asylums proved to be one of history’s most abusive and cruel approaches to the care of people with disabilities.

“While much of the original drive to build asylums was well motivated, the rapidly evolving eugenics movement fueled the drive for increasingly large institutions to warehouse people with intellectual or mental health impairments. The primary concern was simply to remove these individuals from society with little concern for what happened to them once isolated in residential institutions.”

Historical Evolution Towards Independence

The beginning of the end of this abusive era began with civil rights movements in the 1960’s. To be fair, however, the alarm had been sounded almost a century earlier by advocates such as Nelly Bly. She is famous for having allowed herself to be committed to a psychiatric asylum [known in those days as a mental institution] for ten days in 1887. Yet it wasn’t until the 1990s that all asylums were being shut down. For a full century after Bly proved the asylums were inflicting cruel, violent treatment on people with disabilities, the asylums continued to operate.

As archaic notions of disability began to fade away, there was a need for new ways of thinking and policies which were founded in dignity and respect.  “This history of the independent living movement stems from the fundamental principle that people with disabilities are entitled to the same civil rights, options, and control over choices in their own lives as people without disabilities.” [2] The movement began in the last half of the 1960s and truly flourished in the 1970s and onwards. A Sociologist by the name of Wolf Wolfensberger served as a seminal inspirational figure for this movement due to his writing and teaching which centered on the belief that people with all manner of disabilities could live independently.

The Multi-Spectrum Need for Independence

Critical to the independent living movement are services that provide people with the kinds of support offered by BlueWing Care Professionals. One of the primary traits of this progressive-minded company is the fact that independence for people with disabilities is one of their stated objectives. Zoe Norton has designed the services offered by BlueWing around the premise that the provision of these services will empower people to live full, independent lives.

The importance of living an independent life cannot be over-stated. While some people have highly complex conditions, or impairments requiring a high level of care, most people with a disability can quite easily manage their own care, and live on their own. There is no need for a carer in everyone’s life, even if they do have a long-term condition. For example, an individual who is blind manages perfectly well using modern technology designed for people who have low vision, or are completely blind, a guide dog, and occasional support.

With independence comes a plethora of key changes in a person’s life – the ability to make their own decisions and choices, and live without the barriers of institutional control. “In the Independent Living philosophy, disabled people are primarily seen as citizens and only secondarily as consumers of healthcare, rehabilitation [3] or social services. As citizens in democratic societies they have the same right to participation, to the same range of options, degree of freedom, control and self-determination in everyday life and life projects that other citizens take for granted.” [4]

The Independent Life

Independence for a person with a disability does not in any way imply they prefer to live alone. On the contrary, it is a foundation for living as a full-member of their society, the freedom to study and work in the career of their choice, to live in an accessible environment [this implies barrier-free and universal design], to access the transportation systems, theatres, restaurants, clubs, cafes, and all aspects of sports and entertainment. As described earlier on in this article, these freedoms and ease of access were so long denied to people with disabilities. The notion of independence encompasses all aspects of a person’s life – the right to choose where they attend school, participate in athletic activities, select the preferences for college or university, and engage in personal friendships and intimate relationships.

The Future of Independence for People with Disabilities

Where is the independent living movement going? Much has been achieved over the past sixty years, yet statistics indicate people with disabilities still suffer from significant barriers and inequities in many parts of the world. In 2019, Forbes published an article projecting the next decade for people with disabilities. The article offered a rather dire warning concerning the advent of new technologies, and also the genetics movement which may screen out all disabilities by birth at some point. With prenatal screening comes the possibility of a renewed interest in eugenics. Given that young parents would most likely prefer a healthy baby, the movement towards screening out any “unwanted complications” provides a foundation for eliminating children born with any form of a disability.

On the other end is technology. The advancements in medical technology have been remarkable – new types of treatments such as stem cells, minimally invasive surgical procedures, and adaptive devices to make our lives easier and less complicated. Along with these advancements however, is a new perception about the human body – that anyone can be fixed. So, those people who can’t be fixed will become fewer and less noticeable. But, will they become aberrations? Only time will tell how the human body will develop over time.

Still, services such as BlueWing Care Professionals are doing the work communities benefit from – supporting individuals and families to live empowered, independent lives.

[1] Legislation designed to define English society’s obligations and duties to the destitute, aged, sick or disabled judged unable to look after themselves. Also contained punitive measures aimed at able-bodied poor people deemed ‘idle’ or unwilling to work. Began with a 1531 law under Henry VIII and culminated in the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834.

[2] https://www.accessliving.org/newsroom/blog/independent-living-history

[3] The three main types of rehabilitation therapy are occupational, physical and speech. Each form of rehabilitation serves a unique purpose in helping a person reach full recovery, but all share the ultimate goal of helping the patient return to a healthy and active lifestyle.

[4] https://www.independentliving.org/docs7/ratzka200507.html

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