Risking success for people with disability

We need to talk about risking success for people with disability.

As disability service providers, we receive training in both duty of care and the dignity of risk, and learn to foresee when the two push up against one another. We need to negotiate that tension carefully.

Like medical practitioners, our code is: do no harm. So, if in doubt, we must err on the side of caution.

But erring towards caution can seriously risk prospects of success.

Take the young woman who has never walked up the street by herself, and would dearly love to get more exercise and meet up with her friend three blocks away, but she’s not allowed in case she gets lost. Or another whose parents would find it inconvenient to learn to take the bus themselves so, instead, they drive their daughter to work every day.

An example direct from my experience comes from my asking a young man what he would like to do for a job. His father answered, saying: He digs holes. When I questioned the job seeker directly, again his father spoke on his behalf: He’s really good at digging holes.

The young fellow was a slight, indoors-type who probably wasn’t going to make a career of digging holes.

Mostly, this packing in cotton wool of our nearest and dearest stems from a life-time of needing to protect our children. I understand this. But in these cases, where is there room for an independent life to begin, let alone thrive?

The answer is that there’s very little room indeed. We need to be braver and more active when it comes to enabling people with disability to live full lives.

Safety, especially for the most vulnerable, is vital. Yet there are ways to learn or re-learn skills that support people’s independence, while at the same time keeping them safe. The best example I can think of is the near 100% of young adults who come through NOVA Transition unable (and in many cases unwilling) to take public transport. Through graduated, personalised travel training, they become semi or completely independent travellers to and from their workplace and social activities.

- Martin Wren