The ramp or the stairs

Social Model of Disability

‘Norman should not have been born disabled.

He should have been normal.

The problem is in Norman.’

That is what Norman thought and felt……Is that what we think?

All these years I as a special educator, have been fighting for accommodations in schools for children with different abilities, who are lucky to get admission in the first place. And all these years I have advocated early intervention therapies because they can be corrective in their impact when in later years they are more supportive in impact. 

 I stand corrected today. I understand now that how I see disabilities has to change.


Firstly, disabilities are more prevalent, in multiple forms, than any time before. That makes the standard norm questionable.  

Secondly, viewing a person with a disability as less than a non- disabled person, and thinking that the ‘disability’ needs to be corrected, is wrong. 

Today I heard Norman’s talk.

Yes, Norman talks differently from me. But does that make me right and him wrong? Yes Norman needs to get from one level to the next by wheeling up a ramp or taking a lift when I can walk up. How does having to take the lift or ramp become an accommodation for Norman and just a regular option for me? Am I really more able than Norman because I talk clearer and can walk up the stairs?  

Is a ramp an architectural correction for different ways people can get from one level to the next? O OR…Is it an accommodation for those with special needs who cannot climb stairs? 

Now here comes the thought that when we believe that all people should able in a standard form that comes from what is predominant or a majority.  But are we all the same? Don’t we intrinsically believe in human diversity? 

So then, if differences are actually an inherent part of human uniqueness, we will no longer view people as those with dis-abilities but all of us will just have different disabilities. Just like the existence of different people with different coloured hair- blondes, brunettes, black and auburn.

Now if diversity is the norm, we would no longer be needed to make accommodations for ‘persons with a disabilities’. That is because the system would correct itself to cater to accommodate the diversity in human abilities and the diverse needs of the race. Ramps and lifts and stairs would all be a part of the architecture and we wouldn’t be talking about it. 

Now what about all the ‘therapies’ that individuals with special needs have to go for?  Would they not need them anymore? Oh no. I would no longer look at therapies as ways to correct a wrong or fill a deficiency. I would look at therapies as ways to strengthen abilities and make individuals more efficient.  If I could not walk, I would learn another way to get from one place to another. If I could not speak, I would learn another way to communicate be it using a Tab or a sign language. If I could not see, I would find another way to know the world around me.

Do you realise what we just did? We just redefined the problem. We saw the disability as the problem to be solved, cured and changed. We now redefine the environment to include the diversity of human abilities, which is in our control. We make a huge impact when we remodel our social structure to include differences as part of the picture. It’s man-made so it can be man-changed, right? 

If I value me, then I value the social structure that celebrates the uniqueness in me. For me to celebrate me, I have to celebrate you. Without you and your differences there can be no unique me.  

Are you going to celebrate with me? Will you join in the remodelling of our social architecture?


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