Pay attention to this: most of the times, when media and politics talk about disability, the focus is, essentially, on two aspects, often counterpoised. On one hand, welfarism associated to pietism (“Poor guys, we must help them! “); on the other hand, what I call the “hero rhetoric”, which leads to describe and represent people with a disability as necessarily strong and brave, a “model” for everyone. There’s nothing wrong with it, let’s make it clear: after all, there are conditions which necessarily require assistance and, as regards the second point, it’s often true that, to face a disability and avoid staying stuck in a corner feeling sorry for yourself, you need to find inside you a lot of behavioural resources. We’ve often talked about “models”, such as the Paralympic athletes, as well.
But let’s try, just for once, to look at things from a different perspective. Except the cases when disability doesn’t allow the individual to look after himself and his primary needs, work, have a social life, why don’t we focus, rather than on welfarism, on creating conditions that promote the autonomy of disabled people? To say it borrowing an expression that’s very in vogue now, besides to “after us” (an indisputable topic, of course), why don’t we first think about “during them”, that is focusing disability policies (and the messages transmitted by mass media) on life, needs and licit expectations of people with disability? After all, that’s exactly the sense of the UN Convention on disabled people rights: focusing on people, rather than on their disability. Since, we’d better remember this, one of the biggest obstacles when dealing with disability is exactly the fact that there isn’t just one disability, but many disabilities and also people with similar disabilities can have very different needs.
Structures that assist non-autonomous or not self-sufficient people are welcome: it’s right they exist and they’re still not enough, above all if we think that the average age in Italy is increasing and we know well that, often, old age and disability are linked. But that’s not enough to say that “we’ve solved the disability issue”. Many of the more than 4 million of disabled people are individual who, based on their own conditions and age, are perfectly able to be autonomous, productive, active members of our community and not just “dead weights” or “issues” to solve somehow (maybe, hiding the in “dedicated” structures). Are we doing enough to answer the licit expectations of these people through effective policies aimed to inclusion (at school, at work, but also in the community tout court, as we never get bored to restate in this space), going beyond the mere welfarism? Sure, it’s important that there are invalidity allowances and similar stuff, but it’s even more important to enable who’d be able (despite his disability) to work, move, travel, removing architectural and cultural barriers.
That’s the only way, for us, to actually be and feel like people, rather than “poor sods” who someone from the top down gives charity to (not just in terms of money, assistance, but also of attention, time, love, friendship, affection, etc.). And it would also turn into an economical advantage for the entire community.