Friday, 9 October 2009

Understanding Disability - Physical Impairment

A physical impairment is the most visible of all disabled people and it is for this reason that people with a physical impairment often suffer from the most obvious discrimination.

A physical impairment can be defined as any condition which limits the physical function of limbs or fine or gross motor ability. Partial or total paralysis, stroke, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, amputation are just some examples of physical impairments.

It is not necessary to discuss with a person the cause of their impairment but it useful to be aware of the barriers that people may experience. For example, people may have: tremor or shaking; weakness; pain; reduced control of limbs; inability to sit upright or short or missing limbs.

Physically impaired people may use mobility aids such as wheelchairs or crutches. They may have assistance from other people in daily life and may use a range of assistive devices to control the environment, to manipulate objects or carry out tasks.

Misconception: People with a physical impairment are brave and courageous.
Truth: Adjusting to a physical impairment requires adapting to a lifestyle, not bravery and courage. Going to university, having a family, participating in sporting events and working in a job are normal not heroic activities for people with physical impairments just as they are for non-disabled people.

Misconception: People with physical impairments have lower IQs or cannot be educated.
Truth: People with physical impairments have a full range of IQs and academic abilities. The degree of the physical impairment has no bearing on a person’s mental capacity.

Misconception: People who use wheelchairs can’t get around
Truth: It may well be a fact that some people using wheelchairs cannot walk but others can. Many people who use wheelchairs do so because they tire easily or because their strength is limited and using a wheelchair makes it possible for them to travel longer distances, or to be ‘out and about’ for longer periods of time.

Misconception: People with a physical impairment always need help.
Truth: Many people with physical impairments are independent and do not always require assistance. And while anyone may offer assistance, most people with physical impairments prefer to be responsible for themselves.
There are many obvious things that society can implement to increase access for people with a physical impairment such as ramps, accessible transport links etc but it is often the hidden barriers that get forgotten.

Let’s think about this logically a ramp is of little use if the doorway is too narrow or if once inside, the area is not accessible i.e. no turning space for wheelchair users etc. An access requirement for a person with a physical impairment may be as simple as providing a comfortable chair or a wrist support for computer use.

As with all disability issues, it is best to ask the individual what access requirement they have – they know better than anyone else what is best suited to their needs.

Understanding Disability - Learning Difficulties

Learning Difficulties covers many different conditions including people with Dyslexia, Downs Syndrome and some behavioural difficulties.

A big part of the misconceptions surrounding Learning Difficulties is due to misinformation. Some of the common misconceptions are:-

Misconception: Learning difficulties are in some way environmental and therefore the parents are to blame.
Truth: Learning disabilities are not due to parental neglect. They are genetic, and therefore they are an inherited characteristic just like height, skin tone or eye colour. Just because a child's parent is dyslexic doesn't mean that a child will be.

Misconception: Learning Difficulties are all the same.
Truth: Not all Learning Difficulties are the same as there are many different types. Some of the most common include dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, auditory and visual perception impairments, and memory conditions. Some may well face similar barriers but that does not automatically mean they are linked to one another and therefore there is no uniformed approaches. In many cases, people with the same Learning Difficulty respond differently to learning, life scenarios etc. Therefore, it is important to focus on the individual rather than the Learning Difficulty.

Misconception: People with Learning Difficulties require special education.
Truth: This is not the case and a broad assumption should not be made. The type of learning required is very dependent on the person and in many cases learning within the mainstream schooling system is more beneficial. For those with mild to moderate academic requirements simply providing class-room assistance may be all that is needed.

Misconception: Learning Difficulties indicate a lack of intelligence.
Truth: Definitely not! Many people with Learning Difficulties are just as intelligent (if not more so) as everyone else. Whilst some people with Learning Difficulties may find it harder to process different types of information i.e. letters, numbers etc they may be more creative or possess improved memory skills. Learning Difficulties have absolutely nothing to do with intelligence just the way in which information is processed.

Looking beyond these misconceptions to the access requirements, it is important that we think less about the Learning Difficulties and more about the individuality of the person.

There are some access requirements that generally cover most people with Learning Difficulties i.e. ensuring information is presented in an easy way to understand; whether it is large and clearer print, easy read documents or pictorial. As well as this there are some people with Learning Difficulties who do not read and use an audio tape and for this we must ensure that the wording is easy to read and therefore easily understandable.

The best advice that we can heed when considering access requirements for people with Learning Difficulties is to remember that Learning Difficulties vary across the board and even though there are general things society can do, they do not catch everyone in the net. The surest way of being fully accessible to people with Learning Difficulties is to ask them and listen to what they have to say.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Understanding Disability - Hearing Impairment

1 in 7 people in the UK experience some form of hearing impairment so it is important that we understand what this means and how access requirements can be met.

People who are deaf or hearing impaired may be affected in many ways and losses may range from mild to profound. They may be conductive i.e. as a result of impairment to the outer or middle ear, sensorineural as a result of impairment to the inner ear or be a combination of the two. People with a hearing impairment may find that they have difficulty hearing in crowds or in group conversations or they may hear but not understand what is being said as they may find that words seem to be jumbled or just run together.

Some interesting statistics are that 71.1% of over 70-year-olds will have some kind of hearing loss; 41.7% of over 50-year-olds will have some kind of hearing loss and approximately 2,474,000 people aged 16 to 60 experience a hearing impairment.

Misconception: All hearing impaired people live in a world of silence
Truth: There are approximately 8,945,000 hearing impaired people in the UK with 688,000 of these people having a severe to profound loss of hearing.

Misconception: All hearing impaired people can lip read.
Truth: Only 30% of English words can be read accurately on the lips. For clear, concise and effective communication many hearing impaired people will use many techniques such as sign language/interpreters, lip readers, lip speakers and speech to text.

Misconception: All hearing impaired people can “sign”
Truth: There are approximately 8,945,000 hearing impaired people in the UK but only around 75,000 people in the UK use British Sign Language (BSL) as their first language.

Misconception: Hearing impairment cannot be helped.
Truth: A large number of individuals with hearing impairment can be helped through amplification. In the UK today there are approximately two million people with hearing aids and 1.4 million people using them regularly. However, it is thought that another four million people could benefit from a hearing aid.

Access requirements vary and therefore it is important to remember to discuss directly with the person their individual requirements. However, some general guidelines would be:

• Before speaking attract the person’s attention unobtrusively i.e. by moving into their line of vision

• When speaking face the person so they can lip read and avoid moving around too much

• Speak clearly, don’t shout or over enunciate as this distorts sound and lip patterns and remember to give a clear view of lips: avoid covering the mouth with hands

• Use gesture and facial expressions

• Use normal language i.e. use short sentences rather than single words; use normal speech at a normal rate

• Try to understand and act upon the requirements of a person with a hearing impairment; this is one of the most supportive strategies you can adopt.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Understanding Disability - Mental Health Issues

There is a stigma attached to the subject of mental health which is mainly due to ignorance and the negative portrayal of people with mental health issues by the media. Here are some common misconceptions about mental health:

Misconception: Mental health issues only happen to other people.
Truth: 1 in 4 of the adult population will experience mental health issues in their lifetime.

Misconception: People with mental health issues are violent and dangerous.
Truth: The risk of being killed by a stranger with a mental health issue is roughly 1:10,000,000 which are about the same probability as being struck by lightning.

Misconception: People with mental health issues are poor and/or less intelligent.
Truth: Mental health issues, like any physical issues, can affect anyone regardless of intelligence, social class or income level demographic.

Misconception: Mental health issues are caused by emotional weakness
Truth: People do not choose to have mental health issues and it has nothing to do with being weak or lacking will-power.

Misconception: Once you’ve had a mental health issue, you never recover
Truth: People can and do recover from mental health issues. Medications, psychological interventions, a strong support network and alternative therapy treatments from cognitive behavioural therapy to improved diet and exercise habits are also very effective in leading to a complete recovery.

Access requirements are varied for people with mental health issues and it is important to ask the individual the exact requirements they feel will assist them. However, on a general note the following access requirements may be necessary:-

Time - Allow more time - a person with a mental health issue may need more time to process information etc. They may become confused or anxious about being given too much information at one time and how to prioritise the information.

Allow flexible working hours as a person with a mental health issue may have limited timescales. They may need to work part-time or it may find working afternoons and not mornings more preferable.

Regular Breaks/Quiet Time – it may be beneficial for a person with a mental health issue to take regular breaks in order for them to gather their thoughts together. Providing a quiet and relaxing room may be greatly appreciated.

Support Worker – the provision of a support worker can be very advantageous and will be able to assist with things like prioritising etc.