Disability Awareness

Often it can be easy to forget how varied and unique each individual’s lived experience is. As members of society and volunteers at RDA Ryde Centre, it can be at times challenging or uncomfortable knowing how to act or engage with disability, and to know what we need to do to ensure that everyone in our community is supported, respected and offered the same control and opportunities to live normal lives.

What is disability

The Disability Discrimination Act defines disability as:

  • Total or partial loss of a person’s bodily or mental functions
  • Total or partial loss of a part of the body
  • The presence in the body of organisms causing disease or illness
  • The presence in the body of organisms capable of causing disease or illness
  • The malfunction, malformation or disfigurement of a part of a person’s body
  • A disorder or malfunction that results in a person learning differently from a person without the disorder or malfunction
  • A disorder, illness or disease that effects a person’s thought processes, perception of reality, emotions or judgement, or that results in disturbed behaviour

This definition covers not just Chronic Disability, but acknowledges a disability that is not visible, presently exists, or previously existed, may exist in the future or is imputed to a person. Disability means something different to everyone, especially to people with disability and even people with the same disability have completely different lived experiences.

How do we view disability?

The way society has historically addressed disability has changed over time.

Moral or Religious Model of Disability

Views disability as a product of sin or punishment to be cured through miracles, sacrifice or exorcisms. Lack of disability is therefore viewed as a sign of ‘goodness’.

Charity Model of Disability

Views disability as a tragedy or personal problem and something to be pitied. Those that do not fit into this model (e.g. possibly acquire through alcoholism) are not offered this sympathy. This view can be extremely disempowering and disrespectful even for those who do fit into it.

Medical Model of Disability

Views disability as something to be cured or treated as medicine and focuses on ‘fixing’ the individual.

Social Model of Disability

The Social Model was a shift that occurred in the last 50 years. As you listen to the below video, think about how it differs from the previous models, and how the work we do at RDA Ryde Centre fits within this model.

People With Disability (PWD) – The Social Model of Disability:https://youtu.be/Qhwnrthy9gc
A transcript may be downloaded here: The Social Model of Disability [DOCX 13KB]

Summary: The Social Model sees disability as the result of people living with impairments in an environment filled with barriers. In order to change this, the environment needs to change. These environments are not just physical, but in our society we must also look at our attitudes and the way we communicate and socialise to enable people living with impairments to participate in our community on an equal basis with other people.

Types of disability

The Disability Awareness eTraining resource provides a useful overview of the below broad umbrella types of disability.

You may hear Coaches using similar terms to refer to our riders and clients, but please keep in mind that we have a duty of care to each participant at our centre, and so Coaches will purposefully try to avoid referring to specific diagnosis or conditions unless it is needed / relevant to that clients participation.

How do we engage with people with disability?

“I want people to see who I am, treat me with respect, treat me like everyone else.”

NDIS Worker Orientation Module
NDIS Workers Orientation Module:

The NDIS Worker Orientation Module provides a practical model and guide for how workers should and do engage with people with disability. The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is:

  • a way for Australians with disability to receive the support that they need
  • includes support for families & communities
  • brought focus back to the individual, but through the lens of what they need to live and fully participate in society
  • fair, safe and inclusive for all Australians
  • recognises people with disability as valued members of our society with equal dreams, ambitions and desires to contribute

Think about what being in charge of your life means to you. When asked, here’s what people with disability said it meant to them:

Control. Have your voice heard. Get around town like everyone else. Do what normal people do. Socialise. Go to work. Go to the pool. Financial independence. Choose support workers who I like, get along with and trust. Live without judgement. Be creative. Cook. Drive. Express my identity.

NDIS Worker Orientation Module

The same ordinary dreams and ambitions, wants and needs. Our role as a society is to support people with disability to that end.

How do we talk about disability?

The NDIS Quality and Safeguard Commission research has found:

  • Adults with disability reported being treated like children
  • More likely to experience violence & abuse than people without disability
  • People from other language backgrounds / cultures – find systems hard to understand t get the support they need
  • Struggle with reporting – knowing where or how to report, or being believed

The aim of the NDIS is to recognise people with disability as equal and valued members of our society, with dreams, ambitions and desires to contribute. The NDIS seeks to provide people with disability the reasonable and necessary support and so empower people with disability to have choice and take charge of their lives.

The below was delivered by Ben Myers at the TEDxOStateU in April 2015. The entire talk is brilliant and worth listening to, but for this exercise scroll forwards to 2mins and play until 3:50mins.

For context: Ben was a scout whose troop as part of their levelling requirements had to interview a person with disability. Ben was asked to stand in front of his peers and answer questions from them about something that is quite a significant part of his life – which he was excited to do! However, when the time came, none of his peers were asking any questions. So here’s what he did, and some of the insight he gained from that experience:

BEN MYERS |TEDxOStateU | April 2015

Ben raises a really good point. the way we talk about people with disability effects our attitudes and the way society views and caters for disability.

Terms are often used such as ‘victim’ or ‘sufferer’ that reinforce negative stereotypes and are disempowering, discriminatory, degrading and offensive to people with disability. The People With Disability Language Guide has been written by people with disability to assist the Australian general public and media outlets in talking about and reporting on disability.

Stella Young | TEDxSydney | April 2014

Where from here?

The above information has been pulled from 2 main sources of free online training. Please take the time to explore each of these courses as they provide a variety of perspectives and understanding of Disability and what we have used above is only a snapshot of this information.

CoursesFees / DurationDescription
Disability Awareness Training1hr, FreeThis Disability Awareness eLearning training resource seeks to challenge the ingrained cultural and attitudinal barriers that perpetuate this discrimination and provides participants with a general overview of the legislative framework which supports the inclusion of people with disability in Australia. This training is a requirement for all RDA(NSW) Coaches.
NDIS Worker Orientation Module1.5hr, FreeThis module is an interactive online course that explains the obligations of workers  – from the perspective of NDIS participants. It was developed in consultation with the sector, including NDIS providers and people with a disability.

These courses are supported by research, lived experience and produced by people with disability, for people with disability.

If you’re interested in finding out more, check out the training modules below for more perspectives and examples of lived experiences.