Definition of Status
The status of a group refers essentially to the level of esteem in which it is held by society at large. It refers therefore to the social standing of a group: it connotes the level of esteem, honour and social regard accorded to a particular group, and to its individual members.
To establish the status of disabled people therefore, one must identify all the factors which positively or negatively affect its social standing. The status of the group is derived therefore from its standing in all the major social institutions, structures and systems within the society.
The status of disabled people, in this general sense, refers to their social standing as a whole group and as individual members of that group. It also refers to their social standing in general throughout society.
Because disabled people are a heterogeneous group, divided along gender, wealth, age, power and other lines, there will be considerable status differences between disabled people themselves which are not necessarily related to their disability but which derive from their social standing arising from such factors as gender, age, occupation, sexual orientation, ethnicity and wealth.
In addition, there will also be status differences between disabled people themselves arising from the nature of their disability. Within any given society, certain human attributes are likely to be accorded higher status than others, depending on the way in which that society is organised. A society or group which relies on hunting skills will obviously place a high value on sensori-motor skills related to such tasks. Because of the sedentary nature of many occupations in our society, mobility skills are not as crucial for survival and therefore the person who has a mobility impairment is likely to have considerably higher status than in a society where mobility-skills are essential for survival. However, our society does place high value on literacy and numeracy skills, for example, and people who are disabled in these areas will be accorded lower status in many contexts.
Finally, the status of a disabled person can and will vary across contexts, although the status of the person in one context will naturally interact with that in another. A person who is deaf and whose natural language is sign, for example, could be a highly successful athlete or sportsperson although they might have low status in an educational context which required the use of spoken language. It is self-evident that the status of people in any given context (such as education) is also related to the level of equality which exists in society at large for disabled people. In that sense, the factors which affect status can be subject to change depending on the legal, educational and policy interventions which are made.
The Principal Determinants of Status
A major purpose of this paper is to identify the principal processes, practices and institutions which positively or negatively affect the social status of disabled people. We know from research that there are a number of institutions and systems which have a crucial bearing on social status in our society and a number of these will be given particular attention.
For example, the status of all people in Irish society is strongly influenced by the level and nature of their employment, the level and nature of their education, and by the amount of wealth which they own and control. Status is also influenced by the cultural images portrayed about particular groups (in the media for example), by the legal rights and protection accorded to particular groups, and by the presence or absence of education about a particular group aimed at combating prejudicial and discriminatory attitudes. The level and nature of one's involvement in personal relationships and in political life also affect one's status. So too does the level and nature of one's involvement in cultural institutions such as the media, sport, the arts and entertainment.
In all of the above, gaining status in one area significantly increases the likelihood of achieving it in another. High status in a given area generally increases the person's sense of self worth. This feeling of self worth acts back upon the public self and enables the person to initiate involvements in areas outside those in which she/he has high status initially; this, in turn, increases their opportunities for status enhancement. For example, if a disabled person is successful in a particular sport, the sense of achievement which she/he gets from this will increase her/his sense of self worth; this will boost self confidence which will enable the person to get involved and succeed in new areas and will improve their general social status accordingly.
The status of disabled people is also influenced by the level and amount of social differentiation which exists in society at large. The more egalitarian the political, economic, social and cultural organisation of a society as a whole, the more egalitarian it is likely to be for any given group, including disabled people. For example, the more equal the distribution of goods and services in society as a whole, the more equal their distribution is likely to be between disabled and able-bodied people.
The conditions and factors which affect the status of a given group may change over time. While the core factors such as level and nature of employment, and level and nature of education are quite likely to exercise a key influence on the status of a particular group for the foreseeable future, it is conceivable that the relative importance of these factors may change over time.
The status of a particular group is established in a comparative context vis-à-vis another group. A group such as disabled people has either high, medium or low status vis-à-vis able-bodied groups in society. We recognise, however, as noted above in Section 1, that as long as society itself is stratified along lines of age, gender, social class, etc., there will be status distinctions along these lines between disabled people themselves; there will also be status distinctions related to the nature and extent of their disabilities. The focus of our analysis in this paper, however, will be between the disabled and able-bodied people as that is what is required from the terms of reference of the Commission.
Because disabled people are a highly differentiated group in terms of the nature of their disabilities, it will also be necessary to take account of these differences in identifying practical measures to raise the status of disabled people. For example, the methods employed to enable people with mobility impairments to participate successfully in higher education, will be very different from the methods necessary to enable those with hearing impairments to participate fully. Also, disabled travellers, for example, will have different needs in education from disabled settled people.
Given that one of the tasks of the Commission is to advise on "practical measures to ensure that people with a disability can exercise their rights to participate, to the fullest extent of their potential, in economic, social and cultural life", this goal cannot be realistically achieved without the identification of ways in which the status of disabled people can be raised in society to a level comparable in general with that of the able-bodied.
In this paper, therefore, we will examine a number of ways in which the status of disabled people can be raised. We have chosen to focus on four key areas, namely education, employment, political life and personal relationships. We fully appreciate the need to address the issue of status in other areas but time constraints do not allow for this.
Before we begin our analysis of each of the four areas, we will outline the conceptual framework used throughout.
What is equal status?
In this section, we outline four different criteria which have been suggested for determining whether citizens have equal status. The first three criteria are concerned with whether disabled people have equal status with able-bodied people. It is important to recognise, however, that there is a great variability among disabled people, in terms of type of disability, degree of disability, multiple disability, and the interaction of disability with such factors as social class and gender. In principle, the first three criteria apply to the status of each specific group of disabled people relative to able-bodied people, and our examples later on are chosen to illustrate this. The criteria can also be applied to the status of each group of disabled people relative to other disabled groups; we consider this to be an important question but we do not address it here. The fourth criterion is in
A way the logical extension of this process of disaggregating and concerns the equal status of every individual citizen.
The Equal Status of Disabled vis-à-vis Able-bodied People
First criterion: Equal Formal Rights and Opportunities
Equal status is sometimes thought to be guaranteed by the provision of equal rights to participate in economic, social, political, and cultural life, where such rights are construed as the absence of legal and institutionalised barriers to such participation. This view is linked to the idea of formal equality of opportunity, i.e. The idea that no one should be prevented from participating in education, employment, politics, etc., or in advancing from one level of participation to another, on the grounds of sex, race, ethnicity, disability, or any other irrelevant characteristic, and that access to and advancement within such forms of participation should be based on merit.
Equality of Formal Rights and Direct and Indirect Discrimination
The most common way of establishing equality of formal rights and opportunities for disabled people is by means of legislation and policies prohibiting direct or indirect discrimination. Both forms of discrimination concern the way disabled people can be disadvantaged by the criteria used for admission into or advancement within some area of activity. Direct discrimination occurs when someone is treated differently when they should be treated the same and when as a result they experience a disadvantage. Direct discrimination is defined in the Australian Disability Discrimination Act (Cth) 1992, Section 5(1) as occurring where because of the aggrieved person's disability, the discriminator treats or proposes to treat the aggrieved person less favourably than, in circumstances that are the same or not materially different, the discriminator treats or would treat a person without the disability.
Indirect discrimination refers to the differential impact of the same treatment where the differential is not justified. It is defined in the Australian Disability Discrimination Act (Cth) 1992, Section 6 as occurring where the discriminator requires the aggrieved person to
Comply with a requirement or condition:
- With which a substantially higher proportion of persons without the disability comply or are able to comply; and
- Which is not reasonable having regard to the circumstances of the case; and
- With which the aggrieved person does not or is not able to comply (McDonagh, 1993:129).
Second criterion: Actual participation
It is now widely recognised that equality of formal rights and opportunities is not enough to secure equal status, because a person's status depends not simply on their formal rights to participate in society but on the actual exercise by them of those rights, that is, their actual participation in society. This clearly requires that all citizens are able to participate, by possessing both adequate financial, educational and other resources and by having overcome non-legal barriers to participation. Another way of expressing this idea is to say that equal status depends on ensuring that the basic material needs and the basic psychological, educational and other needs of disabled people are fully provided for, since to provide for a person's basic needs is precisely to provide those things necessary for their full participation in society.
Providing for basic needs enables participation, but to have equal participation, it is necessary to encourage participation. Actual participation depends therefore on ensuring that disabled people are motivated to participate and are accepted by others as full participants. This means going beyond mere provision for basic needs. It could mean adopting proactive policies such as access programmes to encourage disabled people to participate in particular sports or artistic activities or the undertaking of disability equality training and education for staff in public service areas such as transport and communication systems to overcome prejudice and ignorance.
Addressing inequalities in participation varies according to the nature and scope of a person's disability and according to context. In particular, policies which allow one group of disabled people to participate may do nothing to foster the participation of another group, and so may generate inequalities of status between groups of disabled people. It is clear, for example, that many of the strategies adopted to improve the participation of people with mobility impairments will not assist people who are mentally impaired.
Third criterion: Equal success in participation
Undoubtedly it would be a major step forward for disabled people to be guaranteed adequate means to participate in economic, social, political, and cultural life. Such a change could only come about as a result of a substantial redistribution of resources towards disabled people; it would in turn have major effects on those inequalities which affect status.
Nevertheless, status is in fact strongly affected not just by participation in society but by the degree of success people experience in the course of their participation, that is, by their relative place in the distribution of income and wealth, in organisational hierarchies, in educational attainment, in political power, etc. If society was not hierarchically stratified in terms of wealth, power and privilege, then the question of equality of success would not be so significant. However, society is currently stratified so if disabled people are to be equal to able-bodied people in terms of success, this means that they must be enabled to succeed at the same rates as able-bodied people.
It follows that equality of status between disabled people and the able-bodied as groups depends on achieving overall equality between these groups in terms of access to, and the distribution of, economic, educational, cultural and other benefits. Similarly, equal status between groups of disabled people depends on overall of success between these groups.
International experience shows that there is no easy mechanism for realising equal success for different social groups, but that any serious attempt to redress the problem involves policies commonly referred to as 'affirmative action', 'preferential treatment' or 'reverse discrimination' and 'quotas'.
It should be noted, however, that a number of these strategies could also be employed to achieve equality of participation as outlined in number two above. For example, affirmative action could include the running of a special university access programme for disabled students to enable them to participate on equal terms with able-bodied students when in the university system. Affirmative action might also include the development of a training policy in a given company which was directed at developing senior management skills among disabled staff. In the latter case affirmative action is oriented towards achieving equality of success while in the former case the intention is to achieve equal participation.
Quotas are more obviously a strategy for achieving equal success for disabled people as they ensure rather than merely enable or encourage equal rates of success vis-à-vis the able-bodied.
Fourth criteria: Equal status of all citizens: equality of condition
The third criterion represents a radical challenge to existing policies. However, like the first two criteria, it operates by comparing the disabled and the able-bodied as groups, and allows for substantial inequalities of status within these groups.
By contrast an egalitarian society would be committed to the equal status of all citizens, and not simply to the equal status of particular groups. If a person's status is dependent on their social standing in various key contexts, then it follows that the equal status of all citizens depends on substantial equality in the living conditions of all citizens.
This criterion calls for widespread changes throughout society. It would involve the equalisation of wealth distribution; substantial equality in the working conditions; job satisfactions, and income across different occupations, an educational system devoted to developing the potentials of every member of society; a radically democratic politics which aimed at the equal participation and influence of all citizens; and a restructuring of family and personal life for the sake of enriching the personal relationships of every individual. Policies based on the second and third criteria of equal status could clearly contribute substantially to satisfying this fourth criterion, although they would continue to fall short of it.
Criteria of equal status: Summary
Four criteria of equal status have been outlined here: three of these are concerned with whether disabled people have equal status vis-à-vis able-bodied people, namely equal formal opportunities, equal participation and equal success, while the fourth, equality of condition, is concerned with equality of status between all citizens.
- Equal formal rights and opportunities
- Equal participation
- Equal success in participation
- Equal status of all citizens: equality of condition
Equal status for disabled people in four key contexts: education, employment, political life and personal life
This is the core part of the paper in policy terms. In each section we will identify the type of legal and social framework which is necessary to ensure that disabled people of all types have equal status with able-bodied people while also addressing the implications of equality of condition.
We wish to emphasise that we are offering these examples as illustrations of policies, rather than as specific or comprehensive recommendations. In our view the only adequate source of information on the needs of disabled people and the restrictions they currently experience are disabled people themselves; we see our role as providing a conceptual framework which the Commission may be able to use in discussions with disabled people. In the development of our framework for this paper we are indebted to the writings and research of a number of disabled people including Barnes (1991), Duffy (1993), Mason (1981) and Oliver (1990); they have helped inform and develop our thinking in the Equality Studies Centre at UCD.
Education, Status and Equality
The key question about education is that it operates at different levels. One must examine education as a series of interrelated systems, the most obvious of which are the first, second and third-level systems. Adult, continuing and second-chance education also form centres of education around which policies have to be developed. Within each of those systems one can look at equality for disabled people in four ways: in terms of formal rights and opportunities, participation, outcome/success and in terms of the implications of having equality of condition. Although, space will not allow us to develop an account of what each type of equality would require at each level of education, it is useful to bear the framework in mind for the purposes of policy-making.
1. Equal Formal Rights and Opportunities in Education
One cannot examine the issue of formal rights to education without taking account of the interrelationships between formal rights in one sector and that in another. For example, participation in third-level education is related to having access to and success in relevant second-level and primary education. For a variety of reasons, a considerable number of disabled students are not now prepared for public examinations such as the leaving certificate. The result is that a number of these young people are not in a position to apply for or participate in third-level education. Any proposal for change in educational policy therefore, must take account of the need to facilitate movement from one education sector to another. It must also enable disabled mature students who have been denied appropriate second-level education to enter third-level education through alternative routes such as adult access programmes.
Formal equality of educational opportunity, defined in terms of access, exists when there is no legal or quasi-legal barrier to a person's entry to education because of their disability. With the exception of Rule 155 (4) (a) of the Rules for National Schools which formally states that
"Before a candidate is admitted to a Training College, the medical officer of the College must certify that he is of sound and healthy constitution and free from any physical disability or mental defect likely to impair his usefulness as a teacher; the medical certificate shall include such details as the Minister may require".
There are no regulations in first, second or third-level education in Ireland which formally discriminate against disabled people. The Disability Discrimination Act (Cth) 1992 (DDA, section 22) in Australia outlaws direct discrimination such as that which exists in teacher training colleges in Ireland (McDonagh, 1993:136). Discrimination in relation to the admission of students, denial of benefits, expulsion and subjection of the student to any detriment is also prohibited (ibid).
Although there is little evidence of direct discrimination, there are a number of ways in which disabled people are indirectly discriminated against in terms of access to education. One example is through the use of entry tests. Secondary schools (as opposed to vocational, comprehensive and community schools and community colleges) are privately owned and controlled educational institutions. At present, a number of secondary schools use entry tests to select pupils. These are normally written tests in Irish, English and Mathematics, although some schools also use written aptitude and intelligence tests. Such tests are not normally available in Braille. Those who write in Braille therefore would be unable to take the test and would thereby be unable to attend the school in question. Also, such tests indirectly discriminate against all those who have a writing disability. If a person is only able to express themselves orally for example, then they could not do written tests and would not be able to attend a school where successful performance on a written entry test is a requirement of entry.
Indirect discrimination could also occur due to the requirements of some disabled people for personal assistants. If a potential pupil needed a personal assistant and was prepared to provide their own, the school could argue that there is no provision for such arrangements within the rules of the school. For example, they could claim that such a person would not be an employee of the school and would create problems for them in terms of insurance or in terms of discipline.
Strategies for Action
There is a clear need to outlaw direct discrimination in relation to education by enacting legislation prohibiting it. This has already been done in the United States through the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, 1990 and in Australia through The Disability Discrimination Act (Cth) 1992 (DDA, section 22).
In the cases cited above where indirect discrimination could occur, the particular needs of disabled people could be met if resources were made available. If the school is to have tests available in multimedia form or to hire its own personal assistants for disabled, pupils, considerable expense is involved. The policy question which arises here is whether the individual, the school/college or the State is to meet such costs. Because most schools receive over 90% of their current and capital expenditure from the State, in practice, the option is between the State paying or the individual paying. The exception to this may be those fee-paying primary and secondary schools which charge fees. In these latter cases individuals have chosen to enter a fee-paying system and it could be argued that the state had no immediate responsibility to pay the full cost for them in schools where the outlay is higher because of its exclusive nature.
As noted below in the Section 3 on Equality of Success in Employment, Strategies for Action, there needs to be some sanctioning system for educational institutions which continue to discriminate. It is also necessary to have a monitoring body with statutory powers to enforce sanctions.
2. Equality of Educational Participation
To enable disabled students to participate in education on equal terms with able-bodied students requires the school or educational institution and the state (as provider of educational services) to take account of their needs. If disabled people are to participate in schools or colleges then the institution must provide 'reasonable accommodation for the needs of disabled students'. What this accommodation would mean would vary with the disability and the educational context.
Reasonable Accommodation in Education: Basic Material Needs
This would involve making the physical environment readily accessible and usable for those with mobility impairments. It would mean allowing guide dogs in schools or colleges for those with visual impairments. If the student needed a personal assistant to participate, it could mean providing such an assistant or allowing the person to have their own personal assistant in the school but providing some financial aid towards their support. If a person is reliant on the use of sign language for communication purposes, it could mean the provision of an interpreter to enable them to participate; for those children with lesser hearing impairments it could mean the provision of appropriate hearing aids suited to a teaching situation with background noise. For those with a visual impairment, equality of participation could mean the provision of teaching and learning materials in large print, or, if necessary, in Braille and the availability of a resource person/teachers who could interpret Braille. Alternatively, and perhaps more satisfactorily (because most teachers cannot read Braille) equality of participation would mean the availability of a computer workstation for each child where they could type in Braille but which would translate the Braille into standard text. For a student who had to write with her feet, equality of participation could mean the provision of appropriate seating and desks which were comfortable and at an appropriate height. It could also mean the provision of a trolley if the desk had to be moved from one classroom to another.
Reasonable Accommodation of Basic Material Needs: Subject Choice, Examinations and Extracurricular Activities
Equality of participation also means being able to opt for particular subjects in schools on the same terms as able-bodied students. For example, if laboratories or workshops in schools are constructed in such a way that students in wheelchairs cannot move around the rooms to undertake the essential tasks of the subject, then such students are indirectly discriminated against in terms of their ability to participate on equal terms with able-bodied students. They are effectively precluded from exercising their rights to full participation by being excluded from taking particular subjects.
To participate on equal terms with able-bodied people in school one must be able to participate in examinations and assessments. The provision of special facilities for examinations such as scribes, individual rooms, or microcomputers would all be essential in different circumstances depending on the disability.
One must also be able to participate in extracurricular activities if one is to participate equally with others in education. There is a need therefore for schools and colleges to make reasonable accommodation for their disabled students in the extracurricular area. This means having appropriate equipment so that pupils with mobility difficulties can participate in physical education, enter and exit swimming pools easily, travel on school buses etc. It also means enabling students to participate in games or activities which are of interest and accessible to them, or providing such activities in the extracurricular programme as were appropriate for disabled students.
Reasonable Accommodation in Education: Social, Psychological and Other Needs
If students who are disabled are to participate on equal terms with others, then there must also be provision made to educate teachers, lecturers and other students about disability issues. The pre-service and, more particularly in the Irish case, the in-service education of teachers and lecturers about disability is crucial here. If teachers are not educated, and therefore not fully apprised of the needs and interests of their disabled students, the students cannot participate on equal terms with others in schools and colleges. Teachers who are ignorant about disability will not understand the needs of disabled pupils. There is evidence that they may even feel resentful or threatened by them in class with all the attendant negative implications that this has for their pupils and students themselves (Booth and Swann, 1987).
In addition, if disabled students are to participate equally with others then there is a need to breakdown misconceptions and ignorance about disability in all schools or colleges. This can be done by incorporating more material by disabled people across the curricula, by having role models who are disabled (e.g. Teachers, administrative staff, etc.), by including systematic education in relevant subject areas about different disabilities and by developing whole-school/college policies about disability in the context on an overall equality policy.
Specialised Centres of Education and Inclusive Education
One question which has to be addressed here is whether provision for disabled students should be made in all schools and colleges, in some regionally-based schools and colleges, in a selected number of specialised national centres, or by providing a mixture of services which allow for some special centres but generally pursue inclusive education policies. Clearly the views on this question will vary with the disability as well as with the level and type of education required and the age of the person in question.
The limitations of concentrating provision in specialised segregated schools are as follows:
- The disabled students do not have the opportunity to mix with able-bodied students and vice-versa. This limits both the social and educational opportunities available to both types of students about one another.
- Best way to overcome prejudice about disability is to have disabled and able-bodied people working together as equals. By having segregated as opposed to inclusive education, there is little scope for real confrontation of prejudicial attitudes towards disability among the able-bodied. By inclusive education, we do not mean simply locating able-bodied and disabled people in the same schools and then ignoring the reality of difference. We mean taking account of differences and developing a school/college policy which addresses differences in an open and honest way. Inclusive education is about making the system suit the pupils not just making the pupils 'fit the system' which has often been what integration has meant in the past.
- Specialised units often cannot afford to offer students a full range of subjects owing to their size. This can seriously limit the educational opportunities available to students at third level.
- When specialised education is highly centralised, it means that a considerable number of students have to go to boarding schools at a young age. This can put the disabled student at an emotional disadvantage vis-à-vis able-bodied students as they lack the experience of warmth and caring which can be provided in a loving family context. The emotional trauma involved in separation at a young age can inhibit the young person's educational development as well.
- Potential inequalities that young disabled people may experience as a result of their segregation into special schools does not mean that there are not potential dangers involved in integrated education.
Young disabled people may not be able to participate fully in inclusive schools especially if their disability is one which isolates them from other pupils in a significant way, or where it would be extraordinarily difficult to accommodate their difference in a way that would allow them to participate equally with able-bodied children. One obvious example are pupils who are deaf and whose natural language is sign. Such students may only experience equality in educational participation by being educated in a school where sign is the medium of communication.
3. Equality of Success in Education
If disabled students are to succeed at the same rate as able-bodied students in schools and colleges not only must they be able to access and participate in schools on equal terms, they must also be given whatever resources they require to succeed on equal terms. What one would be aiming for here is the same rate of educational success (as measured by the proportion of disabled people sitting and attaining success in school, public and college examinations among disabled people as in the population generally). Success could also be measured in terms of the level of satisfaction which disabled people experienced with their education; it should be the same level of satisfaction as in the population generally.
Ongoing measures to ensure success would mean the provision of extra resources and support services to enable the disabled person to achieve comparable grades in public examinations and to enable them to experience comparable levels of satisfaction.
In particular, if disabled people are to attain equal levels of success in third-level education, they would, in certain cases, need special tutors to enable them succeed at a comparable level with able-bodied students.
Quotas, Reserved Places and Affirmative Action in Higher Education.
Because disabled people are significantly under-represented in higher education at present, there is a need to operate a quota or to have reserved places if their participation rates are to be brought into line with those of able-bodied students. There may even be a need to have a reserved places policy over a long period of time as many of the disadvantages which disabled people experience in attaining equal rates of participation in higher education cannot be realistically overcome for the foreseeable future.
Special attention would have to be paid to disabled women in the operation of a quota system or reserved places policy. At present disabled women may experience a double disadvantage of being women and by being disabled. There would be a need to ensure that quotas or reserved places were equally balanced between the women and men.
Disabled women, like women generally, are significantly under-represented in fields such as technology, engineering and computer science, yet these are growth areas of employment. If disabled women are to be attracted in to these areas, there would be a need for an affirmative action strategy such as a pre-university access programme, as without it disabled women would simply not be available in sufficient numbers to meet the quotas. For disabled women to access fields of study where able-bodied women are now well represented, such as law, medicine or the arts, would also probably require access programmes owing to the non-gender-related disadvantages such women experience.
If equality of success or indeed of access or participation were to be achieved, it would be essential that such policies were monitored on an ongoing basis and that sanctions would apply to institutions which did not meet targets. (See Section 3 on Equality of Success in Employment, Strategies for Action below).
4. Education and Equality of Condition
Even if there is equality of access, participation and success for disabled students in education, it must be realised that the very same inequalities in outcome which now exist between able-bodied students will also occur between disabled students. This will mean that just as students from the lowest socio-economic group (unskilled manual workers) are now under-represented by a factor of 6:1 in higher education and students from higher professional families are over-represented by a factor of 3:1, the same divisions will exist between disabled people (Clancy, 1988). Those disabled people whose parents are professionals would be over-represented while those whose parents were unskilled manual workers would be significantly under-represented even if there was equality of access, participation and success. Equally just as women in general are significantly under-represented in the fields of technology and engineering, so also will disabled women be under-represented in these areas.
For equality of condition to operate in education, it would have to operate in all other major institutions in society. Indeed it would be impossible to have equality of condition in education without equalising the distribution of wealth and power throughout society. This is a factor which has not generally been recognised in education yet it is of profound importance. If certain sectors of society own and control most of its wealth and power, then they will always be in a position to use their wealth and power to offset or challenge any equalisation policy in education. For example, those who own and control significantly more financial resources are in a powerful position to pursue cases through the courts and to challenge equality rulings if they deem them not to be in their interests. In addition, those who are wealthy are in a position to ignore financial sanctions unless the sanctions are such that they seriously jeopardise their institution.
That is to say, it is only when there is an even distribution of wealth and power that all types of disabled people will have an equal chance to develop their talents in education and acquire the type and level of credential they want. If wealth and power are unequally distributed in society generally, then they will be unequally distributed between disabled people.
While having equality of condition in other institutions is a pre-requisite for having equality of condition in education, it is not the only consideration. Schools and colleges are the principal institutions in our society for transmitting and legitimating cultural forms. At present, much of what is incorporated in the formal curricula of schools and colleges does not take account of the life world of disabled people. Equality of condition would require not just that disabled people be enabled to access, participate and succeed on equal terms with able-bodied people in education, but that the organisation of school life (what is referred to in educational circles as the hidden curriculum of schooling) and the formal curriculum took account of their life style and culture and recognise it fully in the school/college. It would mean, for example, having a full subject on offer in 'Sign Language' at the leaving certificate for example. It would include the incorporation of 'Disability Studies' as a subject as well. It would mean recognising fully the multiple forms of human intelligence which exist, and not just the linguistic and mathematically-based abilities which so dominate education in terms of subject matter and in terms of modes of assessment at present (Gardner, 1985).
The pre-occupation of so much of formal education with credentialising those forms of knowledge and human understanding which can be assessed and measured through the medium of written language and mathematics is, in fact, a factor creating disability and inequality in education. For example, many people have insights, competencies, skills and abilities which cannot be measured through the linguistic medium, yet such people are heavily penalised and often labelled disabled in education; examples include people whose primary interests are in the visual/spatial sphere, those who work through the oral rather than the written medium, those who are primarily oriented to the bodily-kinesthetic sphere and those whose principal competencies are in the inter-personal and intra-personal spheres. The problem is not that such people are disabled but that the education system does not allow them the means of expression or the opportunity to develop the fields of competence and interest which they have. In effect, equality of condition would mean changing the school and curricula, not just making disabled students fit the system as it stands.
Employment and Disability
As noted above in Section 2 the level and nature of one's employment is a key determinant of status. There are a number of issues which must be considered in relation to improving the status of disabled people through employment.
First there is the nature of the work that disabled people do, the sector and occupation in which they are employed. Because the paid labour market is stratified both between occupations (e.g. Hotel managers versus waitresses) and between sectors (e.g. Pharmaceutical industry versus cleaning industry), some sectors and occupations give one an opportunity to have higher status and income than others. For example, the average industrial wage is much lower in the textile industry than it is in the telecommunications industry; workers in the medical profession have disabled people is to be equal to that of able-bodied people generally, then it is clear that they must not be concentrated in low status and low paid sectors of employment or low status and low paid occupations within particular sectors.
Secondly, occupations are also internally stratified; that is to say there are senior and junior positions within most occupations with attendant differences in pay and status. If disabled people are concentrated in areas of employment where there is little opportunity for promotion, or in junior positions within occupations with promotional opportunities, this will have an adverse effect on their status.
Thirdly, entry to paid employment, in Ireland is strongly correlated with one's level of educational attainment; in other words, the higher the level of education attained the more likely one is to be employed (Department of Labour/Enterprise and Employment, Annual School Leavers Surveys). In addition, promotion within employment is also related to level of education attained. Because of this one cannot separate out the issue of employment from education in the discussion of status: the two are closely interwoven and this will be taken in to account in our discussion here.
1. Equal Formal Rights and Employment
To have equal formal rights in employment all legal and quasi-legal barriers which prohibit disabled people from either entering employment or from being promoted within employment would have to be removed.
There is need to provide protection for disabled people in Ireland against direct discrimination arising out of quasi-legal barriers to employment. The fact that medical examinations and enquiries can lead to discrimination has been recognised in Title I of The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) 1990. "The general rule which applies in the pre-employment context is that a covered entity is not allowed to conduct pre-offer medical examinations or make enquiries with a view to establishing if a person has a disability (section 1 02(c)(2) ADA" (Quinn, 1993:72). Neither can the prospective employer inquire about the applicant's compensation history nor can questions which identify or assess a disability be asked at interview (ibid). Given current practices in relation to application and entry procedures to employment in Ireland there is need for a similar provision here.
A related issue is when an educational or professional body controls entry to an occupation and when they specify conditions of entry to the profession, occupational group or institution which discriminate against disabled people. One specific and well known example of this in Ireland is that of Rule 155 (4) (a) of the Rules for National Schools which we referred to above in the Education Section which precludes people from entering unless the medical officer of the College certifies that "he is of sound and healthy constitution and free from any physical disability or mental defect likely to impair his usefulness as a teacher".
The case above applies to entry to an educational institution but it has direct implications for one's ability to enter employment as a primary teacher if one is disabled. As noted above in the Education Section, this type of discrimination is outlawed in Australia by the Disability Discrimination Act (Cth) 1992 (DDA, section 22).
Indirect discrimination is experienced by disabled people in accessing employment also. Using educational credentials which disabled people are less likely to possess than able-bodied people, and which are not justified in terms of the skills required for the job, indirectly discriminates against disabled people. For example, educational credentials such as a leaving certificate or third-level diploma or degree are widely used to screen candidates prior to short-listing or interviewing for particular jobs in Ireland. Indeed, there is a very close correlation between the level of one's educational qualifications and one's employment/unemployment status (Department of Labour/Enterprise and Employment, Economic Status of School Leavers Surveys). Yet, many of the jobs for which educational credentials are used as a selection device do not really require the skills/competencies tested by the examination. A well known example is that of supermarket outlets which specify that applicants for jobs such as check-out operators must have the leaving certificate although there is ample evidence that one could perform this job in a wholly satisfactory way without a leaving certificate. The precondition of having to have a credential for a job where it is not occupationally necessary indirectly discriminates against a number of educationally disadvantaged groups including the disabled because there is considerable circumstantial evidence that disabled people in particular do not acquire the same level of educational qualifications as able-bodied people (Murray And Whyte, 1993:9). The reasons why disabled people do not achieve as highly as able-bodied people are undoubtedly related to the lack of equality of opportunity which they have had in the education and related sectors as we have noted above.
Just as the use of occupationally irrelevant educational credentials for occupational selection indirectly discriminates against disabled people at entry to employment, so too does it discriminate against them when it comes to promotion. Indirect discrimination could also occur at the promotional level by the laying down of other criteria such as having occupied certain positions in the organisation (for example, the requirement that one has worked as a management accountant to become chief executive) when it is known that disabled people are highly unlikely to have occupied such positions, and when experience in such positions is not essential for success in the promotional post.
Action to Prohibit Direct and Indirect Discrimination
To ensure the realisation of formal rights for disabled people in employment, there is a need to introduce legislation which outlaws direct discrimination. This means introducing legislation which prohibits the treatment of disabled people in a less favourable way than able-bodied people in circumstances which are the same or not materially different (McDonagh, 1993:129, citing the Australian Disability Discrimination Act (Cth) 1992, DDA, section 5 (1) definition of direct discrimination).
There is also a need for legal and other provisions to prohibit indirect discriminations. As the experience of the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act, 1976, shows (which did not cover indirect discrimination) prohibiting direct discrimination alone will make little change in the status of a given disadvantaged group. For example, there was little evidence that the proportion of Catholics employed in certain major private companies in Northern Ireland increased to any significant degree after the 1976 Act. One of the major problems here appeared to be the operation of indirect discrimination practices e.g. Using educational credentials to select candidates for posts which Catholics were less likely to have) (Smith and Chambers, 1991:235-329).
Provision could take legislative, policy and educational forms. For example, it could be stated in law that educational credentials or a particular ability (e.g. Having a current driver's licence) could only be used to select candidates where they were job-relevant. (It is obvious that such a regulation would have implications for educationally disadvantaged groups other than the disabled as well). Organisations or bodies which did not adhere to such principles could be sanctioned financially. Sanctions could take the form of tax penalties, the withdrawal of government subsidies or supports or ineligibility for government contracts where those applied. In addition, there could be educational programmes for potential employers and their agents showing them the arbitrariousness of using irrelevant credentials in selecting applicants with a view to encouraging them to discontinue their practices.
2. Equality of Participation in Employment
Gaining access to employment is only the first step on the road to equality of status. There is also the need to ensure that disabled people are able to participate in employment on equal terms with able-bodied people. Having a formal right to participate in employment is not enough, one must also be enabled to exercise this right.
The Needs of Disabled People and the Provision of Reasonable Accommodation: Material Needs including Transport
One of the clear issues at stake here is the need for employers to take account of the needs of disabled people within the employment context. There is a need for the employer to provide 'reasonable accommodation' for the needs of the disabled person to enable them to participate in employment. The Americans With Disabilities Act, 1990, Section 102(b)(5)(A) spells out precisely what discrimination in this area means: it includes ... Not making a reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability who is an applicant or an employee, unless such covered entity [i.e. The employer and/or her or his agent]* can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business of such covered entity (cited in Quinn, 1993:68).
* inset in brackets [ ] is ours.
The precise meaning of undue hardship is spelt out in section 101 (10)(B)l-lV of the ADA (ibid: 79).
What this would mean in terms of different disabilities depends on the disability and the context. It obviously could mean providing ramps to enter buildings for people on wheelchairs as well as accessible work-related facilities such as toilets, rest areas and canteens. For those who have a visual impairment, it could mean providing written instructions in large type-face or in Braille, or providing extra lighting. For those who are deaf, it could mean the provision of access to communication systems other than spoken language or the provision of appropriate hearing-related equipment such as relay systems if such were appropriate. For people who do not have the use of hands or arms for writing, it could mean the provision of some kind of accessible Dictaphone and/or appropriate computer and seating facilities so that they could type or write with their feet. For people with writing difficulties, the provision of a Dictaphone would obviously enable them to prepare reports and write letters if the job required this.
If people are to participate in work, then they must be enabled to get to work. The critical nature of public transport has been underlined in the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA, Subtitle B, Part 1 of Title II) (Quinn, 1993:91). To be denied effective transportation is to be denied the full benefits of employment. There is need clearly for appropriate transport systems for all types of disabled people. This would mean that public transport would have to be made readily accessible to and usable by all disabled people including those using wheelchairs. If existing transport could not be altered without undue cost, then the relevant public authority would have to be enabled to provide alternative accessible and usable transport. In addition, all new stock such as trains and buses would have to be easily accessible to and usable by disabled people including those using wheelchairs.
Reasonable Accommodation: Psychological, Educational and Other Needs
Reasonable accommodation for people who have a mental disorder would vary with the disorder or the illness experienced. For example, if the person was a teacher and her/his mental state was seriously disturbed by having to take the most demanding class/stream then it would seem reasonable that she/he would not be given such a group. If a person experienced claustrophobia, providing reasonable accommodation could mean giving them an office or room for work which had a good sense of space and lighting so that they did not feel confined.
To enable disabled people to participate on equal terms in employment with able-bodied people, account must also be taken of their educational and developmental needs. For example, if skills within the particular sector were subject to constant obsolescence problems (as is the case with jobs requiring the use of computer software) then disabled people must be enabled to participate in staff upgrading programmes in that field at an equal rate with able-bodied people and, if necessary enabled to acquire new educational credentials if equal participation demands this.
Disabled people cannot participate on equal terms with able-bodied people in employment if there is ignorance and prejudice about disabilities in the work context. Ignorance creates fear and fear, in turn, can lead to isolation of the disabled person with its attendant negative effects on their employment experience. Equal participation in employment would require that an educational programme be provided about disability in the employment context to ensure the breakdown of prejudicial attitudes and thereby to provide an equal working environment for the disabled person(s).
3. Equality of Success in Employment
Being able to participate in employment is in itself no guarantee that one will be able to participate equally with able-bodied people in relation to different sectors of employment or that one will be able to succeed at the same rate within a given occupation or job as able-bodied people.
As noted at the outset of this section on employment, paid work is segregated both within and between sectors and within and between occupations. Equality of success for disabled people means enabling them to succeed on equal terms with able-bodied people both within and between occupations and sectors.
We will address the question of sector and occupational differences in employment first. Certain sectors of employment enjoy higher status than others: for example, being in the pharmaceutical sector accords one higher income and status than being in the cleaning sector. Also, certain occupations clearly enjoy higher status than others; medical doctors enjoy higher status and income on average than telephonists.
The sectoral and occupational breakdown of employment for disabled people is not available nationally. However, given the fact that disabled people do not attain the same level of education, on average, as able-bodied people, it is quite likely therefore that they are concentrated in sectors of employment (sheltered workshops doing assembly work for manufacturing industry for example) and in occupations (telephonists) where their chances of career mobility are greatly circumscribed. There is well documented evidence that segregation can also lead to lower pay and poorer working conditions for weaker groups as has happened in the case of women (Second Commission on the Status of Women Report, 1993).
Equality of success within employment therefore would mean ensuring that disabled people were enabled, not just to access employment or to participate equally within given employments. It would mean enabling them to get employment in sectors and occupations which were well paid and with good career prospects at comparable levels with able-bodied people.
Equality of success within occupations would also mean enabling disabled people to gain equal status within occupations with able-bodied people. Because of educational disadvantages for example, disabled people are not generally in a position to compete on equal terms with able-bodied people for promotional posts no matter how 'reasonable the accommodations made'. Consequently, the argument would be that there is need for policies which would guarantee the same representation of disabled people in senior or promotional posts as able-bodied people. Furthermore, different types of disabled people should also be represented in senior or promotional posts taking account of their proportion in the general population.
Strategies for Action
It is self evident that if there is to be proportionate representation for disabled people, even on an approximate basis, across sectors, occupations and senior posts, there must be an accurate and disaggregated statistical profile available of the disabled population in society. Such data is not available at present. One of the most obvious requirements in relation to any policy-making with and for disabled people is the availability of comprehensive, up-to-date statistical and qualitative research data. The lack of adequate data is itself a major barrier to promoting all types of equality policies as there is simply no basis for comparison with able-bodied groups.
To ensure equality of success for disabled people within employment would require both long-term strategies for those who have not yet entered the paid labour market and short-term strategies for those who are in employment at present.
In the long term, it is clear that major changes would have to occur in the educational opportunities available to disabled people if they are to enter the broad range of jobs and to succeed within jobs at the same rate as the able-bodied. In particular, there would have to be proactive educational campaigns to encourage disabled people to enter third-level education and in particular to enter third-level education sectors such as technology, engineering, medicine, architecture, law and computer science where the limited evidence available suggests they are particularly poorly represented at present. Unless disabled people enter these sectors of higher education, then they are not likely to be qualified to enter and succeed in the related employment sectors.
Affirmative action would be also required such as the provision of specially designed access courses for disabled people who wanted to enter higher education. Research in the U.S. Indicates that it was only when affirmative action was required, through the Individuals With Disabilities in Education Act, 1990, that the participation of disabled people began to increase significantly in higher education.
Gaining the educational credentials necessary to succeed on equal terms with able-bodied people for jobs is a long term strategy. In addition, it is fraught with difficulties as the experience of women shows. Although women now attain higher grades than men in public examinations across most countries in Europe, and although they are even entering faculties such as medicine and law at the same rates as men, they are not achieving the high status positions at comparable rates to men (U.S. Department of Education, 1991; Wilson, 1991). It would appear essential, in the short term at the very least, that there would be some system of quotas introduced both within sectors and occupations and for particular posts if disabled people are to have rates of success in employment comparable to those of able-bodied people. A disaggregated quota system would be required so that disabled people would be represented in each sector, occupation and level. The details of the employment sectors and the occupational categories are available from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) and are used in analysing the paid labour force annually (CSO, Annual Labour Force Surveys).
If affirmative action strategies and quota systems are to be effective it is essential that they be implemented. This means that there must be an agency which has the statutory authority to oversee the implementation of affirmative action programmes and quota systems and which has the authority to sanction individuals, organisations and bodies which fail to comply with the regulations. There is a useful example in the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act, 1989. Section 27 of this Act enables the Fair Employment Commission to monitor employment practices and Sections 10 and 11 allow for surveys of employment and investigation of employment practices. It is also possible to encourage organisations to implement quotas and affirmative action strategies through financial incentive schemes such as grants and reduced tax liabilities. One obvious difficulty here would be in establishing the liability of any given employer in terms of meeting the quota.
4. Equality of Condition for all Citizens and Employment
Neither equality of access, participation or success in employment will alter the fact that inequalities in income, power and prestige will continue to exist across and between sectors and occupations unless equality of condition exists for all citizens. Even if one has equality of success, disabled people will be stratified occupationally, with some having high status occupations and others low status occupations with attendant differences in income. The equalisation of formal rights, participation and success will not alter the hierarchical structure of the paid labour market; this means that some disabled people will work in poorly paid occupations and in low status occupations in just the same way that able-bodied people do.
Only in a society where there is equality of conditions for all citizens can all disabled people have equal status with one another and with all able-bodied people.
Political participation in this context includes voting, standing for and holding positions as public representatives, participating in political discussion and policy formation, and participating in organisations such as residents' and tenants' associations, political parties, trade unions, farming organisations and single-issue campaigning groups. Such participation contributes to social status both by influencing the way disabled people are seen by others and by raising the self-esteem of disabled people through a sense of political membership and efficacy.
1. Equal formal rights and opportunities
Under the Irish constitution, all citizens have the same rights to vote, stand for office, engage in political discussion and belong to political associations. The rights of disabled people to these forms of political participation could be reinforced by legislation against direct or indirect discrimination in membership rules and qualifications for office but this does not seem to be a major problem as things now stand.
2. Equal Participation
Some legal provisions exist to ensure that disabled people are able to vote, such as provision for 'special voters' to vote at home and for physically disabled voters to vote at accessible voting stations (Electoral (Amendment) (No.2) Act, 1986). It may be advisable to conduct a systematic review of provisions in relation to the whole range of disabilities. It must be ensured in particular that any new procedure which is enacted does not introduce new discriminations in to the system between disabled people themselves.
Undoubtedly disabled people face greater barriers in connection with standing for and holding public office. To some extent these stem from barriers to participation in political associations (see below) but specific problems may include the inaccessibility of public buildings, and practices and procedures which make office-holding by disabled people practically impossible. For example, a deaf or hearing-impaired person might not be able to operate effectively as a public representative without appropriate provisions such as simultaneous signing of others' contributions. Public representatives without speech need appropriate provisions for expressing their contributions to a meeting. A blind public representative needs to have reports, bills, etc. Available orally, in large print or in Braille. Without firm guarantees that such needs will be provided for, disabled people cannot make use of their right to stand for public office.
Political discussion, orally and in print, is the life blood of political participation, yet such discussion is largely inaccessible to those with speech, hearing, and visual impairments. This clearly forms part of the wider communication needs of disabled people, raising educational, technical, and financial issues. In mass communication contexts, policies might involve the use of teletext subtitles, simultaneous signing, and written transcripts of broadcast material, of audio and Braille versions of printed material, etc.
The barriers to participation are in most ways exacerbated at the level of political associations such as residents' associations, political parties, trade unions, and voluntary groups. Such associations often meet in inaccessible locations, and they are usually even less geared to meeting the communication needs related to specific disabilities than public bodies are. Although their more intimate character may in some circumstances serve to make disabled people feel more welcome as participants, they are also capable of being more thoughtless or even intolerant of disabilities. A major campaign of public education directed at the members of such groups could help them to review their own provisions and attitudes. Policies directed towards a wider availability to such associations of accessible public buildings (including state-financed buildings such as schools) would have the benefit not only of ensuring access but of encouraging the sense that participation is a basic right of all citizens and not a private privilege. State funding to allow large organisations such as parties and unions to provide material in alternative media could be considered.
Political participation is impossible without adequate educational and financial resources. The rate of political participation of disabled people is therefore closely connected with participation in education and employment.
3. Equal success in participation
In politics, equal success means equal power and influence. Although the right to vote gives every citizen a formally equal say in elections, how this operates even at the electoral level depends on the electoral system. Under the Irish system of proportional representation by single transferable vote, which operates in relatively small constituencies (for most elections no more than 5 seats), a quota of votes (i.e. 17% or more of the poll) is the minimum threshold for direct political representation. Since disabled people, particularly when disaggregated by disability, constitute less than a quota in all constituencies in all current local, national, and European elections, the current electoral system cannot be expected to provide direct political representation for disabled people. Indirect influence by way of voting for parties committed to the needs of the disabled is hard to assess, but there is no obvious evidence of it.
There is no straightforward policy within the current electoral system for increasing the number of disabled people elected as public representatives. The use of quotas among nominees, for instance, which has a clear application to gender equality. Quotas could be used to increase the political representation of disabled people although some system would have to be devised for representing different types of disability within the quota; it could not be a simple quota, it would have to be a representative quota. The use of direct nominations to public bodies, particularly to the Seanad, could also be used to increase the number of disabled people in public office. Without imposing a strict quota, political parties could nevertheless set themselves targets in terms of the number of disabled people they hoped to get elected to councils, the Dáil, and the Seanad. Irish political parties are sufficiently centralised that such a policy could be effectively planned in association with local activists. Thus although ensuring the election of a minimum proportion of disabled people to public bodies does not have a mechanical solution, targets could be effectively set and achieved if there were the political commitment to do so. Given the small size of most elected bodies and the heterogeneity of disability, no system of targets on its own would give equal influence to all disabled people at a given time, but it would be a step in the right direction.
Independently of the direct election of disabled people, the electoral influence of disabled people would be enhanced by taking steps to develop the organisational capacities and resources of groups representing the interests of disabled people, so that individual voters had more systematic information on the policies of political parties towards disabilities and were in a stronger position to vote in a co-ordinated way within particular constituencies.
State financial and organisational support for groups representing disabled people would also enhance their ability to take part in political debates and to influence public policy. We emphasise that the object of such support would be to ensure equality of influence for groups which are currently politically marginalised, partly at least by the electoral system itself, and so in no way shows 'favouritism' towards disabled people. At present the resources of groups representing disabled people are severely stretched and may in some cases be caught in a tension between being used for political purposes and being used to meet the needs of disabled people directly. Under-resourcing can also lead to disabled people being represented by an organisation in which they have little real involvement. It should be seen as a major purpose of representative organisations to encourage and support the participation of disabled people in other political associations as well.
In contemporary politics a great deal of influence is exercised by appointed boards, committees, and commissions. These provide another area in which the political influence of disabled people could be made more equal. The general principle for such bodies ought to be that disabled people be appointed roughly proportionately to the impact on disabled people of the committee in question. Thus, bodies which have a general impact on citizens at large would be expected to have disabled members roughly proportional to the proportion of disabled people in the Irish population. Committees which have a special impact on particular groups of disabled people would be expected to have an especially high membership from those groups. Appointments need to be sensitive to the differences among disabled people; for example, it would be appropriate to try to ensure that at least 40% of appointees were women. Inviting groups which represent the interests of disabled people to nominate representatives to public bodies would help to ensure that the voice of disabled people was genuinely representative.
Another factor in political influence is media coverage in news and current affairs programmes and publications and in particular the participation of disabled people in such programmes and publications. Not only would a proportionate participation (for example, among the panellists in RTÉ's Questions and Answers) help to raise the importance of issues affecting disabled people, but the visible participation of disabled people would directly contribute to equal status.
The relative political power of different social groups is expressed institutionally through the organisation of parliamentary committees, special commissions, government departments, and responsibilities and procedures within government departments. Attention to how the machinery of government could be restructured to provide disabled people with a more equal influence over public policy might suggest the desirability of one or more of the following: a joint committee of the Oireachtais on the Rights of Disabled People, a new government department or a division within an existing department to deal explicitly with the needs of disabled people, improved guide-lines for ensuring the recruitment of disabled people to all levels of the civil service and procedures to ensure that the impact of particular policies on the needs of disabled people were addressed as a matter of routine. As always, our aim here is not to make a firm recommendation but to point out opportunities for achieving equal status.
4. Equality of condition
Enhancing the influence of disabled groups does not itself ensure that disabled individuals are equally politically influential. In particular, the degree of inequality among disabled people will be influenced by the degree to which the relative influence of some disabled people stems from broadly based, democratic organisations. Policies aimed at extending democratic participation and control throughout society would help to make the influence of all citizens more equal. More immediately, it seems appropriate to consider the degree of democratic participation and accountability within organisations specifically dedicated to promoting the interests of disabled people themselves.
Equality and Personal Relationships
In this section we discuss ways in which the participation of disabled people in intimate personal relationships contributes to equal status. Among the relationships we have in mind are personal friendships, family relationships including marriage, long-term partnerships and parenthood, and relations of sexual intimacy. As with other forms of participation, the establishment and development of personal relationships serve both to enhance the status of disabled people in the eyes of others and to sustain the self-esteem of disabled people themselves.
1. Equal formal rights and opportunities
In the area of personal relationships, the concept of discrimination applies, informally, in the way in which able-bodied people treat disabled people as potential friends, partners, and lovers. Obviously there is no straightforward legal solution to the prejudice able-bodied people exercise in developing their personal relationships, but some of the other policy tools we have highlighted have an important role to play. For example, the way disability is treated in educational contexts can have an important bearing on whether or not able-bodied people find it perfectly natural or highly problematic to make friends with disabled people. Whatever the value might be of segregated education for children with special needs, one of the key arguments in favour of some degree of integration is to reduce the barriers between disabled and able-bodied people. Social policy can play a similar role in helping disabled people to be integrated into the social life of local communities as against being isolated and institutionalised. The role of the mass media in portraying disabled people as friends, family members, and sexual intimates can also have an influence on popular prejudice.
Some disabled people face another, more institutional barrier to personal relationships through their dependency on caring agencies which may have the authority to restrict or discourage certain kinds of relationship. Although it might not be possible to defend absolute rights to have intimate sexual relationships or to have children, regardless of disability, it seems to us that these ought to be considered at least prima facie rights which could only be restricted under very special circumstances. As in other areas, dependency creates a vulnerability to the power of others which needs to be carefully and self-consciously reviewed.
The officially sanctioned removal of some disabled people from their families or other households is another way in which opportunities to form or maintain personal relationships are sometimes curtailed. In some cases such actions may be unavoidable, but as before this very serious form of power over some disabled people needs to be carefully controlled and monitored.
2. Actual participation
For many disabled people, the difficulty of establishing and maintaining personal relationships stems from difficulties in satisfying their other basic needs. Developing personal relationships is by its very nature a communicative process; those with special communication needs may therefore experience severe problems in developing personal relationships. Friendships and long-term partnerships often develop out of shared activities, at work, in education, in political associations, in sports or cultural pursuits. All the obstacles which society places in the way of the participation of disabled people in these activities also affect their opportunities for developing personal relationships out of them.
In many cases, people may only be able to pursue a social, educational and work life independently if they have a personal assistant. Obviously most disabled people would not be in a position to hire such an assistant out of their own resources; equality of participation would mean state support or provision of such an assistant so that one could equally participate in social life and have the time and opportunity to make friends and form satisfying personal relationships.
The impact of a person's disability on the able-bodied members of their family or household and on their friends can also have severe repercussions on the character and sustainability of these relationships. Adequate state support for carers would answer to the needs of both disabled people and carers, both at the material level and at the level of sustaining and enhancing their relationship to each other. For example, the needs of a paraplegic and her/his carers can be considerably eased by appropriate help from visiting nurses and auxiliaries. Policies to enhance the independence of disabled people would help to ensure that they can develop personal relations with others on the basis of freedom and equality rather than severe dependency. Personal inter-dependency is a characteristic feature of deep human relationships, but severely unequal dependency can also strongly limit relationships.
Parenthood offers tremendous satisfactions to most people, and carries a significant status in the wider society. Disabled people often face substantial obstacles in having and rearing children; yet most forms of disability are perfectly compatible with successful parenting, provided that the special needs related to the disability are catered for. Mental illness constitutes one of the most widespread forms of disability in our society, and is often manifested in difficulties in developing and sustaining personal relationships. An adequate mental health service would itself undoubtedly contribute opportunities and support for developing personal relationships through the use, where appropriate, of group therapy, day centres, counselling services, etc.
3. Equal Success in Participation
Unlike employment, education, or politics, the sphere of personal relationships is not organised in institutional hierarchies. We could not establish quotas to ensure that disabled people on the whole had just the same quality of personal relationships as able-bodied people, or insist that everyone should have at least one disabled person as a friend or lover. At the same time, however, it is possible to use some broad statistical measures of whether or not particular groups of disabled people are doing as well as able-bodied people in their personal relationships. For instance, if people with certain types of disability have a significantly lower marriage/stable partnership rate, or a significantly higher rate of marriage breakdown, than able-bodied people, this may point to ways in which their needs are being inadequately supported. If certain groups have higher rates of treatment for depression or higher suicide rates, this is a likely indication that their personal relationships are not going so well as the rest of the population's. We cannot intervene directly to change a group's marriage or suicide rate, but we can use this information to highlight unmet needs and to spur further research and policy initiatives.
4. Equality of condition
Acting to change the conditions under which personal relationships can develop is for the most part an indirect and long-term strategy. Although it may be possible to intervene in ways which help to narrow the gaps between disabled and able-bodied people, the character of our society sets severe obstacles in the way of nearly everyone's ability to develop close, loving relationships, and makes it inevitable that there will be wide inequalities in the degree to which people find their personal relationships satisfying and fulfilling. The additional support which disabled people need for developing personal relationships is thus closely connected with the additional support which all of us need in this regard. Although no conceivable social policy can ensure that everyone has a satisfying life, we believe that everyone's ability to make and sustain satisfying personal ties could be enhanced by the development of a more egalitarian society. That project would meet a common need of disabled and able-bodied people alike.
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