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Disability Equality in Teaching Now!

10th November 2017

Colleen Johnson
Colleen Johnson

Colleen Johnson, Midlands Regional representative on the NUT National Disabled Teachers' Forum, led a discussion on The Equality Act at a well attended Association meeting at the beginning of the month.

Starting by highlighting the lack of self identification by disabled teachers, Colleen involved members in an activity to consider what things are covered by the Equality Act.

If you have any of the conditions from the following list (which is not exhaustive) then you can consider yourself covered by the Act and should receive 'reasonable adjustments' by your employer to support you in your job: addiction to prescription drugs, aneurysm, anxiety, ADHD, amputation, asthma, autism, bipolar disorder, blind or partially sited, cancer, cerebral palsy, clinical depression, deaf or partial hearing loss, dyslexia, dyspraxia, epilepsy, fibromyalgia, HIV, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis, post traumatic stress disorder, rheumatoid arthritis, significant short stature, speech aphasia.

Colleen then discussed the difference between the medical and social models of disability.

The medical model of disability

Our society often considers disability to be a tragedy for the individual and a burden for the family and society. This model focuses on the lack of physical, sensory or mental functioning and uses a clinical way of describing an individual's disability. There are certain 'norms' in development and in functioning against which a person is judged. This model leads to a dehumanising view where only the nature and severity of the impairment is important, together with the extent to which the difference can be put right or minimised. It defines and categorises disabled people by their impairment and it casts the individual as the victim or problem. Many disabled people have rejected this model. They say it has led to low self esteem, undeveloped life skills, poor education and consequent high unemployment levels. It has also resulted in the segregation of disabled people, thus breaking natural relationships with their families, communities and society as a whole. Since this medical or individual approach results in emotions such as pity, society has traditionally not recognised disabled people's needs as rights. Where the needs have been met it has often been through charity, reinforcing the idea that disabled people are passive recipients.

The social model of disability

Disabled people have arrived at a different model to help understand the situation. They are challenging people to give up the idea that disability is a medical problem requiring treatment, but to understand instead that disability is a problem of exclusion from ordinary life. This is what is known as the 'social model' of disability, requiring a change in society's values and practices in order to remove the barriers to participation that result in discrimination against disabled people. It is clear that this is possible and does happen, eg changing steps into ramps, providing information in Braille and other formats, providing textphones or minicoms, and valuing different learning styles. The social model does not deny the existence of impairments that may affect disabled people's lives, but it shifts the emphasis onto the real barriers which affect participation. The social model of disability demonstrates that removing barriers for disabled people benefits everyone. This happens for example by making the built environment more accessible and providing more accessible information.

Some benefits of adopting a 'social model' approach to understanding disability equality

The social model locates the 'problem' outside the disabled person and therefore offers a more positive approach because:
It doesn't 'blame' the individual or turn them into the problem.
It involves everyone in identifying solutions.
It encourages cooperative problem solving.
It removes barriers for others as well as disabled people; it is an equal opportunities model.
It acknowledges disabled people's rights to full participation as citizens. How To Get Involved The NEU-NUT has an active national disabled section.

To get involved:

Visit the NEU-NUT website at https://www.teachers.org.uk/equality/disabled-teachers
Follow the link on the page to identify as a disabled teacher
If you are a facebook user, search for and join the NEU-NUT Section The Disabled Network
Consider attending the next NEU-NUT Disabled Teachers' Conference.
Please let us know if you would like to receive City Teacher in a larger font and whether you require any adjustments to support you in attending Association meetings.

For more information contact Colleen Johnson at colleenjohnson1961[at]gmail.com


Related articles

UK Disability History Month, 22nd November-22nd December 2019 (14th November 2019)
NEU Disabled Members' Conference, 27-29 September 2019 (9th October 2019)
Disabled teachers (11th April 2018)
The NUT's three equality conferences (9th May 2016)
Disabled Teachers' Conference (4th May 2014)
Disabled Teachers' Conference (20th February 2012)
Equalities Matters (14th June 2010)