There is growing recognition that there are a lot of people with some sort of disability, and this is presenting a challenge to societies as to how to deal with them economically.
It seems that the numbers of people with disabilities are increasing, but are they the forgotten people who are now standing up for their place in society, and so are being seen, heard and having more people advocating for them?
Trying to define disability requires a reference to relate it to, but what is normal?
There is no one normal, as normality requires a criteria around which to measure. Plotting against any single parameter, all people will fall somewhere under a bell curve, where most are around the average with less occurring further away from it. Any one individual will appear on a different place on the curve for each different parameter, meaning that trying to pick a society-wide normal across multiple parameters is virtually impossible. By any measure or group of measures, the people around the average will generally not be the same as those that are there for another measure or group.
So why are we trying so hard to think we have a normal by which to judge people? This is where economics come in, because money is the measure used to determine what society supports and what it doesn't. Everything costs, so in trying to weigh up government spending, the balance is keeping costs low while supporting those that a society deems worthy of help. But who really decides who to help, and what criteria are they using?
Some of the basic criteria being used for judging how well a society is doing are:
- aGross National Product (GDP) – the total economic output of the nation, with higher being better.
- bPer-capita GDP – the average individual contribution to GDP, with higher being better.
- cUnemployment rate – the percentage of the population who are looking for work, with lower being better.
- dWelfare cost – how much is publicly spent on health and living support for a population, with lower being better.
All the government and corporate effort is to make these figures go in the desired directions. Here we really see the bias in how people are judged, because by all these criteria, those who contribute most to GDP while costing the least are seen as the best. And those who cost more than they contribute are often admonished for not trying hard enough, despite many obstacles deliberately put in their way by those trying to maximise their profits.
Normal in this context is not so much a statistical average as a threshold below which the value of a person diminishes greatly. The goal of the criteria is to maximise the numbers of people who believe that those figures are valid, and so keep the great majority of people engaged in producing wealth, especially for those who are already very wealthy. Normal is those who play along with this definition of the purpose of society. The disabled are those who are not capable of contributing to the level required. The bludgers are those who don't buy into the propaganda, but still want the benefits.
By using several monetary parameters to rank people, we are reduced for the purposes of society to being commodities, as consumers, workers or even voters. We are part of a numbers racket that reduces us to being interchangeable and lacking individuality for the convenience of those who have the economic power to determine much of opportunities we have in life. These criteria try to make out that normal is a simple binary judgement rather that the actual multi-variate complexity that each individual embodies.
Having seen that normal is more a term of propaganda rather than some accurate statistical reality, perhaps there is a better framework to view disability within.
People have a variety of characteristics, some of which will fit in with the never-ending growth philosophy, and many that don't. Suppressing the acknowledgement of those for whom our current societies don't work is coming back to bite us, as people choose to not acquiesce, but stand up to be heard and considered a valued part of society, regardless of how much they contribute to a narrow minority's idea of what's of value.
When 40% of people think that their work is fairly meaningless, and most are spending half of their waking life pandering to other peoples' money fetishes, there is obviously something wrong with a society that continues to support this dystopian work model. Many do not have the capability to work such hours, but struggle to find a way of being able to support themselves with such artificially high bars to participation.
Because of the push for high working hour levels, governments are making those who cannot participate at the level required prove that they are worthy of support, and then go to extraordinary lengths to stop or reduce that support. It is an adversarial model that is only there because the economic model doesn't allow for people to decide for themselves what they are comfortable with doing. Disability in this context is a weapon to discriminate against people for being themselves. It is a label to relegate them away from the propaganda by making them seem so different, the rest can ignore them.
Many people don't actually have a disability, but just can't participate in such a distorted model of what people are for. They do not operate in the same way as many are able to, but that does not mean they are deficient in some way, as if they are a broken version of a normal person. They are who they are, and they exist in such numbers that societies are now having to face up to how to deal with them. In the past, they were exterminated, but we have supposedly achieved some measure of enlightenment, so we now give a few of them token honours when they prove they can perform on command.
When society keeps viewing people as some sort of machine that has to perform to a high level to be worthy of status, we set ourselves up to be redundant as what we have created is killing us and the planet. Each person is normal, by many criteria, but the criteria being used by societies are failing to adapt to what people want and should be able to get, and for all people, not just for some in some societies. The criteria are also incompatible with a healthy planet, which means they must be exchanged for more workable criteria for the sake of people and the planet.
There are many people who do have biological and neurological capabilities that severely limit how much they can do, and they should be able to have a life where they are respected and still given opportunities to learn and grow at their own rate. However, so-called normal people have their own biological and neurological biases that may not be as severe, but nonetheless make them far from being able to healthily conform and adapt to what a few expect of them.
Dividing societies into normal and disability creates artificial barriers that throw many into a disuse bin, while everyone else is expected to take whatever is thrown at them. People are individuals, and while we cannot make facilities that can accommodate each individual's needs, we can provide a lot more diversity than a simple binary choice to conform or be rejected. And that diversity of choice needs to be at a lot more levels of our societies than what we get to consume and who we vote for. It is about offering true diversity of opportunity to choose the direction of our lives.
What sort of societies do we want? What sort of societies do we need? It certainly is not the ones with which we have been destroying the world and consigning billions to poverty.
Any model we choose has to be simple and flexible. The more that it requires us to fit in with it, the more problems it will create. It has to be able to evolve as we collectively learn, adapt, and open up to alternatives. Our past and present politico-economic ideologies have been too autocratic and have required oppression or excessive state support for their maintenance, while depriving most of their citizens of similar levels of support.
That means governments should get less involved in forcing people to conform to any model, but that does not mean minimal governments. Governments are the best form of providing health, education and civil order, as any commercial means of doing the same requires providing corporations with profits on top of the same expense base. There should be no requirement to support businesses to the detriment of people.
Businesses are one means of providing societies with goods and services, but they must not be seen as a pinnacle or the only way by which people get to express themselves. They are essentially the playthings of wealthier people to indulge themselves with. While money does provide a means of social mobility, it doesn't have to be – and shouldn't be – the sole criteria by which we make decisions or structure societies by. We need to be prepared to make changes that can maximise our opportunities to each learn about the world and indulge ourselves in a way that allows all people to be part of it.
Time to find ways that everybody can live a fulfilling life, regardless of their abilities, and without forcing them to conform to impossibly high ideals that most people in their societies are having problems reaching. We don't have to marginalise people to have a better life. Others don't have to lose for us to win. We can share this world, stress a lot less, and give ourselves and the earth a break!