Link to Chapter 9

Perceptions of Disability

Chris wilson

n the chapter of Belief and Self Belief the inner world of a disabled or mental ill individual has been investigated, so it would be pointless to go back there again, especially when so much more needs investigation. My aim this chapter is to assess how such disabilities or illnesses are perceived within our society, and how such individuals affected by such factors might be recognised, accepted, integrated, appreciated and fully incorporated into our already busy lives. Once more all such areas will be addressed then they will be drawn together as one. So let us start with physical/ sensory disability, how well do we, as a society, manage here?

How many of us recall our old school reports that, very often, we desperately tried to hide from our eagle eyed parents? How many of us dreaded the phrase “ this child could do better if he tried harder”, yet might not this phrase sum up how we deal with physical or sensory impairment. If we look around our local community, and then imagine how we would manage if we were part of this group, would we be able to survive?

Think of the shops that would be denied to us because of lack of accessibility, the buses and the trains, even a simple step might leave us stranded with nowhere to go. How many information services are rendered useless to the visually impaired, and try crossing the road when you maybe cannot hear or see anything or if you can only do so to a limited degree. Is this a deliberate policy of denial that we practise, sometimes the answer is yes, but more often it is either financial restraints or, even more frequently, a lack of appreciation as regards the obstacles that lie unrecognised before us. Attitudes and awareness are changing and improving in society, so though much more needs to be done, I hope that such disability groups may both welcome what is being done and help us all to understand what needs to be done over the years to come.    


Now we must turn to matters of the mind, it is time to address mental disability, and the dramatic affect that it can have on us all. The range of recognised mental conditions in our current society is as broad as it is long, but if their individual behavioural pattern is termed not only an illness, but also an illness present through no fault of their own, then how should we view such individuals. How should we and treat them, and how might we integrate them as part of mainstream society?

Sometimes integration is relatively easy, as though we might find some individuals difficult or awkward to deal with, the impact they have is deemed manageable by most people around them. Few understand the sufferer, let alone the world they are in, and few actually want to understand their world, but, in general, harmonisation is achieved, and no harm is done.

Sure they might get a bit moody or agitated at times and, unfortunately some die younger than we would otherwise wish by committing suicide but, as the saying goes, you can’t win them all. Maybe it wasn’t their time to go, and of course we sympathise with those left behind, but life goes on, so though we feel sorry for those left grieving, it is not generally our concern. We all have our problems in life, mercifully such problems are not ours, and anyway, we all have busy lives to lead of our own.


Such an approach is understandable and sometimes viable, but what do we do when their condition impacts on our world, sometimes devastatingly so? What do we do when we cannot run back to our pretty castle in the clouds, what do we do when such a situation explodes, and causes us unimaginable and unbearable pain; what do we do then?

Do we not have to address such a situation as it really is, and devise a sensible and practical system by which such impacts might be lessened, resolved, and thereby avoided? Sure they will probably be on a course of prescribed medication, as well as psychological counselling, but such services are becomingly stretched so what do we do now?

Money is short, as is the availability of trained personnel, so treatment is now often reduced to symptom suppression, rather than finding an understanding or a cure. What if the patient loses control and, before help can be sought, he causes discomfort, injury, or death to an innocent bystander around them? Who is to blame if such a result occurs, and what action should be taken? We have already identified that they are ill and therefore in need of treatment, if we were ill would we not expect to be treated the same?

We have already recognised they inhabit a world that we laymen, and even some professionals in their field, may never know, and we can see that money is scarce so treatment might be a little limited. At least one victim lies before us though, so what do we do now? Might two victims stand before us, not one, and, uncomfortable though it feels, might we have to partially or even totally absolve the sufferer who stands confused and bewildered before us? Quite simply if we are in part responsible for generating, and then sustaining, the society we live in, in all its dysfunctional disharmony, can we really divorce ourselves from mental illness, or ignore its impact on us all?

Is it our fault that they are ill, certainly not, especially on an individual level, but when viewed in a broader context does not such an assessment become a little more uncertain or vague? It is easy to raise funds for certain conditions, e.g. heart transplant, cancer, and kidney dialysis machines; let alone a host of other acceptably worthy causes, but if we try and raises money for mental health projects; how do we fare? Even if we become activists, and we mention mental illness, people shy away, and if we try and organise post treatment re-integration systems we might as well give in there and then. As a society we all know help is needed, and we all state that the sufferer’s rights should be respected, but how can we convince others to support our cause when we find it impossible, as activists, to describe to others what is there?


Perhaps what we should do is to seek an intermediary who might form a bridge between the sufferer and mainstream society, an emissary we might say, who having a foot in both camps can open a dialogue, and then keep such a discussion going so that any problem might be understood, resolved or at least eased. Curiously enough such individuals are amongst us already, though they are, in the main, a silent band of untrained yet dedicated workers few of us ever recognise or see. They are the voluntary carers within our community, dealing with all areas of both short and long term illness at a very personal level. Without their goodwill, or at times love, for patients suffering from whatever condition we might care to mention, we would be in a very sorry mess indeed. 

Do we need their help, yes, we certainly do, as they are living with the sufferer on a day to day basis, so they can understand and help the individual, or individuals, under their care. They really can and do form that bridge that all of us in society need, on both sides of the equation, so let us hope that, one day, they may receive our true help and recognition so as to ease their burden and pain that they, as carers, experience every day. How might we help them?

We can pay them for a start, just as we would pay any nurse, doctor, or paid health professional or health worker who has a patient in their care, and then we might start listening to their needs, as well as the needs of their patients.

Once this is done tailored physical and mental support packages or systems might be created, so as to best support the individual carer or the carer community as a whole. Finally we might be able to help carers help themselves through the emplacement of clearly advertised and recognised carer support groups and group networks. With such groups it would be easy to assume that carers could create then run such groups on their own, but we should remember two things. Such groups often need management experience to get them up and running, and then management training so that, once formed, the group will keep going. If these groups are to succeed then good will, faith, sympathy, and enthusiasm may help, but any such group will need a stronger backbone to survive.

There are such groups, operating throughout all of our communities, but they often lie in the shadows where they cannot be seen. Should we not help them to come forward into the light, and once drawn forward, would it not make sense to integrate them heavily into the medical and social support services so that all of us, as one unified community, might benefit and learn?


There are other problems we face though, which seemingly cannot be and which, sadly, seem to be almost increasing in their strength and power. One such problem is paedophilia, and this is one problem, along with other related disorders that, sadly, refuses to go away. However you may wish to regard a paedophile, or an abuser, it is a fact that he, or she, is suffering from a recognised illness, and therefore should, once more, be granted the same courtesies as if he was any other patient who might be ill. In addition it is well recognised, and recorded, within the medical fraternity, that the occurrence of such a condition may be inexorably linked to the upbringing the patient endured. If this is the case how are we to treat such an individual? It may be repugnant to visualise that such individuals may have the right to fair and equal treatment, and be even more repugnant to visualise any re-integration, let alone full re-integration, into general society, but if we recognise they are sick or ill, what then?

Do we have the right, either individually or communally, to demand that they are hounded like lepers, and driven out of a given community, or can we demand an even harsher sentence? Should they be allowed free movement amongst normal society, and if so, should we, as a community, have the right to know where they reside? Should Megan’s Law be enacted, and if we were given such information, could we be trusted to respect the fact that the sufferer was genuinely ill? In the present sociological climate would we be able to allow them the same rights that we would all claim, by right, as our own? Sadly I do not think that such a scenario is possible, yet the problem is still with us and a resolution has not yet come into view.


It may seem that I am on the side of the sufferer and that I am placing the blame solely on those around them, but nothing could be further from the case as I firmly believe, in a great many cases, the sufferer can, and must, accept some responsibility for his past, present, and future. In such cases he must take some responsibility for his actions on a daily basis, as well as accepting the need for him to be aware of the needs, feelings, and fears, of others around him. I am not saying that is always possible, just as I’m not saying that the range of treatments available are perfect, but if he can help, he should help, that way a joint solution may be found for one and all.


So what can we do so as to resolve such problem areas, it will not be easy but what I would recommend is the following. At present we, as a society, seem to be operating our health services, including our mental health services, as if we were transporting a heavy load over a series of individual if well-intentioned roads. We are all working towards the same goal, but we don’t seem to be pulling together so, as a result, we never reach that goal. What if we were to pool our resources, and then to pull as one? What if were to listen to each other, and to learn from each other’s expertise? What if, by such mechanisms, we learnt to cross the current divide and thereby build a better future for all? Who should be involved in such a consensus; all of us, just plain all of us, for how can it be otherwise?

Let’s listen to and understand all who are involved, and to any carer whose services might be employed. Let’s work with the doctors, social workers, and disability experts, and encourage them to help us to understand. What if “expert survivors” are identified within our communities, they are the lucky devils that have been to the depths of mental hell, yet who have emerged from the other side, or those who have learnt to live with and progress with a disability. Some may be prepared to help us understand, and therefore adapt, to what we see around us. If so where and how might they assist? What if they were to join forces with the mental health professional and support services, just think of how and where they might be deployed?

They could go to local community centres certainly, but what if they were invited into the schools, especially the secondary schools so that our children or more likely young adults could enter our world with some appreciation of what was going on. The list of potential avenues really is endless, and the good news is that such developmental avenues are being explored. The bad news is that such developments are not being vigorously broadcasted outside of the mental health or physical disability community, so very often, the only people who know what is going on are those actively involved in such areas to begin with, As a result a breakdown of communication is still occurring, and so many opportunities for progress are simply thrown away. One thing is certain though, whichever route we chose answers must be found as the problem of physical, sensory or mental illness, or any other “ disability”, will never go away. 


As previously stated though there is hope, optimism, and a cause for real joy for, if recognised, just think of the insights that such perceived disabilities can give to us all. One mans disability may be another mans opportunity, either physically or mentally, and these are insights and strengths that all of us can use to build a better society for all. If we doubt this we only need to look at the Para Olympics, go to a children’s hospital, or listen to the laughter, or see the endurance of a supposedly disabled or disadvantaged child who greets us with open warmth whenever they meet us. Their hope, their pride, and durability would put many of us to shame, so why not embrace such disabilities whenever we can? We not always be able to do so, as certain incidents may be to much for us to personally accept, forgive, or endure, but if all parties try to understand each others views, acceptance might follow, and then a happier and more balanced life for all.  


We are coming to the end of this chapter, so now it is time for our life story to move on. I am not going to pretend that it has been easy reading, or that I have supplied all answers to the questions that I have raised. Unfortunately such answers are not always available, but I hope that at least I have given a fair and balanced account of the problems that lie before us all. Now it is time to move our story on, and to see how many of the factors, so far discussed, impact on our daily lives. Let’s start with how we deal with relationships; it is an area that surely interests us all.

Link To Chapter 11

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