Functional social impairments

By definition, a person with an intellectual or developmental disability has a physical impairment. They have a characteristic, labeled an impairment, makes them “atypical” when compared with other human beings. This bodily impairment (to use Wolfensberger’s terms) may then become a functional impairment depending upon the investment a society makes. Using a wheelchair, becomes a functional impairment in a physically inaccessible environment. But functional impairments can also be caused by socially inaccessible environments.

By definition, a person with an intellectual or developmental disability has a physical impairment. They have a characteristic, labeled an impairment, makes them “atypical” when compared with other human beings. This bodily impairment (to use Wolfensberger’s terms) may then become a functional impairment depending upon the investment a society makes. Using a wheelchair, becomes a functional impairment in a physically inaccessible environment. But functional impairments can also be caused by socially inaccessible environments. In the same manner that curbs are cut to promote accessibility, social changes, equally or perhaps more important than changes in the physical environment, might be what is required. Changes in environmental social behaviors, social perceptions, and social realities, can literally cause these kinds to functional impairments to evaporate. Functional social impairments may have been equated, unreflectively, with disability. Why would we assume people with severe intellectual disabilities are friendless and live socially isolated lives? Is that concomitant with severe impairment or is it a socially imposed, functional impairment, of which we are totally accepting, resulting from unreflective practices?

We as the religious face of culture must reject the societally constructed notion of who people are and replace them with socially, barrier free, definitions.

Romans 12:2 says, “don’t conform any longer to the patterns of the world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Social changes are a renewing, transformational process that begins with the rejection of the status quo. We might begin by refusing to accept assumptions about bodily impairment that have traditionally led to functional social impairments.

ow can you assist your faith group to reject the socially constructed status quo and begin the process of transformation by engaging in a renewed perspective on people with intellectual and developmental disabilities?

Blessings,
McNair

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