Social model of disability for brain injury

Listen to this post: 

I’ve read a lot about the social model of disability. In a nutshell, it’s an idea that disabilities are not weaknesses or faults caused by a person’s impairment. You might have an impairment, sure. The disability comes from the ways society is not built and run to have you participate in it fully.

Here’s a simple example: picture a person who uses a wheelchair in front of stairs to a building. Some people say “That person can’t come in because they can’t walk.” Really, their impairment is not a barrier. The stairs are a barrier. If there were a good ramp or lift, there would be no “can’t.” Many places don’t have ramps and lifts. Yet, quite a lot of people still think that inaccessibility exists because a disabled person can’t do things. That attitude is great example of another barrier.

In the reading I do and the podcasts I listen to about this, folks with physical impairments get all the attention. Hey, what about us!?!

What are access barriers to a person with a brain injury? Glad you asked. Here’s a handy list. Find out if someone you know faces these barriers. See what you can do to remove them together.

Stairs!: Some folks have eyes that don’t point the same direction. Or they have a hard time with depth perception or making quick decisions about what they see. Stairs make some people dizzy or exhausted.

Noise: It’s hard for some of us to pick out individual sounds, concentrate, follow a conversation, or keep calm in loud places. What’s not that loud to you might be very loud to one of us.

No seat on the bus: I flash my Honored Citizen pass and even say “please.” But I only sometimes get a seat on the bus when I need it. Many of us struggle with balance, getting startled, feeling panicky in a crowd, and fatigue. Having to stand with these things makes for a rough bus ride. Then it’s a very rough time trying to stay focused and calm when we get where we’re going.

That talking/walking/working/changing things is too fast: Things take longer now. We might think and read more slowly, walk and talk more slowly, and just generally need breaks and time to catch up. You might look at us and think we look like we could or should be able to do things faster. You never know how things are processing on the inside or how much effort it takes to keep up. Quick talking and sudden changes in the plan can really be a barrier.

Gasping and pitying us when you find out the truth about our brains: Sure, some people want sympathy or empathy or even pity because they have a brain injury. But not everyone does, because not everyone sees a brain injury (or any disability) as necessarily being something awful. I’ve had people gasp when they hear the news. I don’t know why they gasp. Some of them even take a couple steps backward. This makes a barrier to the conversation because now I have to console you. Also, you are standing farther away acting like I’m bleeding on you. But I have to stay calm and pretend like you don’t look disgusted. Hmm.

Disability access is so important. Yet I can’t stress enough that disability justice and social justice overall are the bigger picture when I mention access. We don’t want ramps and quiet spaces just for the heck of it. It’s so we can participate in society with respect and equity. After all, if our impairments do not make us incomplete, then our access should not be so incomplete.