The paradox of fostering independence through dependence.
Paradoxes which are not based on a hidden error generally happen at the fringes of context or language, and require extending the context or language to lose their paradoxical quality (Merriam-Webster, 2010). Self-dependence is a term which cannot be consistently interpreted as true or false (Sze & Cowden, 2009). If it is known to be false then it is known that it must be true, and if it is known to be true then it is known that it must be false. This paper hopes to study the nature of this contradictory phenomenon. Therefore, it can be concluded that it is unknowable (Merriam-Webster, 2010).
Self-dependence is a term that seems contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth. People with disabilities were viewed as abnormal forty years ago (Longmore, 2009). They were institutionalized rather than being able to go to school and take part in recreational activities (Kleinhammer-Tramill, Tramill, Brace, 2010). Society has changed since then and wants teachers to foster independence. Individuals should take a lot of what society has done to heart. If it weren't for society changing their view on students with disabilities and their "definitions" it is unsure where these students would have been placed today. It is possible that most people would all know someone who would have been "institutionalized" forty years ago.
Independence is a set of points along a dependency continuum where people strive to achieve. Different points on the dependency scale reflect different levels of independence. The less dependent a person is, the higher up the scale, therefore, the more independent and more freedom one perceives. This is especially true with those with disabilities who live in a country which has laws that support the journey towards independence.
An example of this is the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 brought about a definition that incorporates all individuals with disabilities. This act provides individuals with disabilities to not be discriminated against in public life (Zirkel, 2009). Those that are included under the ADA are individuals with physical, cognitive, psychological, or behavioral conditions that interfere with one or more daily activities. Not only are people with disabilities protected under ADA, but individuals are also protected in regards to race, gender, national origin, and religion. The ADA extends civil rights and nondiscrimination protection to some sectors of the American life (Zirkel, 2009). For example, transportation, employment, government activities/programs, etc. are all covered to protect individuals with disabilities under the ADA. The ADA is similarly defined to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act; however Section 504 includes protection in public schools, while the ADA extends the protection out to private schools as well.
Thankfully, in America, disabilities are more widely accepted today, and laws such as the ADA have been developed to aid in the process of acceptance by protecting those individual rights. Without this act, it is possible that the public would still frown upon people with disabilities as they have in the past. The ADA lessens this kind of attitude and makes people with disabilities feel welcome and wanted. It allows their dependency to be seen as normal and just within the context of the new societal norms.
Without assistance or the dependence on the appropriate services to help them, how will they ever be able to get to the independence point on the dependency scale they seek? If we truly want people with disabilities to live an independent life, we must recognize where they fit on the dependency scale and strive to assist them to be able to move up the scale toward greater independence.
WHAT IS SELF-DEPENDENCY?
Self-dependency can be defined as being able to do any task on one's own. When one is self-dependent, they are able to rely on one's own and realize that at any given opportunity one will not have to depend on someone or something else to help complete a given task (Christensen, 2009). When someone is self-dependent, they have that freedom and ability to not need outside assistance. Generally, self-dependent people are able to assist and volunteer their time and services to help those who are in need (Egilson & Traustadottir, 2009).
Factors Society Plays
There are different types of population who are unable to meet a specific need to successfully carry out their life. According to Barr and Bracchitta (2008), society does not keep people with disabilities from participating and becoming involved in society. This may be perceived as true in a society with laws protecting individuals with disabilities. People with disabilities may have some control over their participation and involvement in society. On the other hand, they may lack opportunities, or the skills they need to participate. This means that the skills may not have been taught. There are some factors that society plays in restraining people with disabilities to participate in different activities (Dowse, 2009).
Self-Dependence through Multiple Lenses
Rothman, Maldonado and Rothman (2008) pointed out that people who face adversity due to disabilities may often feel as though they have to be self-dependent across all domains of their life. As advocates for those individuals, it is important to look through the "multiple lenses" in which they may experience issues and struggles with attaining self-independence. A person's disability does not stop at the physical and/or often visibly seen impact of their disability (Schmidt, & Smith, 2007). For example, an individual in a wheelchair may not only want others to see them as being able to engage in physical activities independently through the help of modifications, but may also want those around them to see their wheelchair not as a barrier to academic, social, and psychological opportunities and experiences.
Sze and Cowden (2009) asserted that it is important for professionals working with individuals with disabilities to be cognizant of the issue of self-dependence and how it permeates all aspects of life. This is likely best attained by just asking an individual with a disability what areas of life they feel independent and what that means to them in their daily life. Ask them how they wished to be looked at by others, and specifically what they would like others to understand about their independence. Additionally, they should be asked when they do need some assistance from others to gain as much self-dependence as possible.
Throughout many societies, people with disabilities have been regarded differently. There are many views on people with disabilities. One outdated or a minority view is identified as the moral model. People who have this belief think that a disability is a punishment. They may feel that people who have a disability are demon possessed or impure. They may choose to institutionalize people who have a disability. This brings ignorance, fear, and/or prejudice towards those who have a disability or even those people who have a son or daughter who has a disability.
The fear felt leads to people hiding the truth and feeling ashamed (Parsons, Lewis, & Ellins, 2009). Some people believe that a disability is simply a pre-existing medical condition. Although in some instances that may be true, a disability cannot always be cured. Sometimes this leads to a person with a disability being over medicated. They have the view that people with disabilities are sometimes excused from the normal obligations of society (Shah, 2007). This holds a person with a disability at a disadvantage because they are never expected to strive for high expectations.
ISSUES WITH INDEPENDENCE IN STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES
Beaulieu (2008) suggested that students with disabilities are made to feel that they must be dependent on others to succeed. They do not understand how to face situations on their own, or think for themselves. They become helpless. There are many areas that students need assistance in and if addressed correctly, students with disabilities can move from being dependent to independent. Accommodations are put in place and assistive technology may be used (Sze & Cowden, 2009). Individual Education Plan (IEP)s are established with reachable goals for students with disabilities. There has been numerous accommodation made for individuals to be able to participate and interact independently in society (Knight and Oliver, 2007). For example, ski resorts offer adaptive skiing for those who may not have the use of their limbs. Also, transition plans are put in place to assist students in preparing for the future. Societies that provide for those with disabilities have made it so that individuals can achieve regardless of their disability.
The stigma that society has placed on disabilities has made it difficult for those with disabilities to fully embrace independence. Due to this stigma, society has made the assumption that people who have an identified disability will lack productivity, pose as a safety concern or cost companies extra money for accommodations/accessibility. According to Moir & Alexander (2008), society views people with disabilities a certain way but it needs to be realized that their views on disabilities is the cause for the taboo. The disability itself does not cause the discrimination, it is the stigma that does. Those who have an identified disability have the right to be independent. Some disabilities prevent some to be less independent because of the care they require, but they still should have the same right. Society does not have the right to determine or label those who they think can succeed being independent or not. This stigma will only change if people extend more opportunities to those who have disabilities and let them be more independent (Bianco, Garrison-Wade, Tobin, & Lehmann, 2009). It is not fair that they get discriminated against, when they have no choice in the matter. Society needs to foster independence in individuals with disabilities and can start by lifting the stigma.
Society's perception of an individual with a disability does not change the fact that the individual has a disability. The fact that an individual has a disability is a trait in which he/she has come to know as a characteristic of their life. A disability does not define an individual. In fact, it has the ability to make them unique (Petalas, Hastings, Nash, Dowey, & Reilly (2009). Normalizing a disability prevents oneself from learning and thinking openly. It is better to think about incorporating individuals with a disability, rather than excluding them which often times leads to them feeling as if they are being "singled- out" in society. Tufan (2008) stated that the more severe the disability the harder it is for the individual with a disability to make a decision for themselves. This is why disabilities needs to be understood and accepted rather than categorize them into a subgroup of society that does not allow them to function as an equal member of the community. Even though society recognizes the disability, it is important that society allow those individuals whom may have a disability to live and function like a person without a disability. As members of society, people need to educate themselves and become aware of the needs of individuals with disabilities so an environment can be created which is welcoming and understanding, not one which excludes individuals.
The wheelchair is an example of assistive technology that is designed to compensate a person with mobility difficult. The use of a wheelchair emphasizes the medical model (Judge, Floyd, & Jeff, 2008). The equipped wheelchair aids in the person with mobility difficulty the ability to be independent.
Complimenting this medical model is the social model which provides services to allow the medical accommodations to occur. In the case of the wheelchair, the society mandates a ramp constructed to accommodate the person with disability. The wheelchair ramp relates to the use of the social model, where as the society acts in reaction as well as to the acceptance of the disability (Parette, Blum, & Boeckmann, 2009). When the wheelchair and ramp are both in use the independency and accommodation of the person with disability will be met.
Accommodation deals with how individuals with disabilities can be aided in order to become more independent and less helpless (Egan & Giuliano, 2009). One stigma that is associated with accommodations that is will cause a lack of drive and ambition, thus causing a person to become motivationally challenged. This is not a desirable trait to learn or teach. Another point to make is that there are views that are overlooked when a disability arises. If a disability is not acknowledged, then the presence of the accommodation is not needed and appreciated. Salend (2008) pointed out that research needs to be done in order to correctly diagnose a disability to then aide in the assistance of the individual to become more independent and less dependent upon others.
People with little understanding about individuals with disabilities may feel sorry for people in wheelchairs or people who are missing limbs (Hodkinson, 2007). It is vital for people to accept others for who they are. People need to focus on their own lives and let others live their own lives. Sometimes people who are trying to do favors for others are really hurting their ability to function on their own, and are enabling learned helplessness. This statement is true for people with disabilities. Many individuals with disabilities feel comfortable with what life has handed them and they have high self-esteem (Sze & Hau, 2007). It is important for people to be aware that many people with disabilities have come to terms with the way their life has turned out, and have positive emotions about it.
Dependency management: Towards greater independence
Students who are given clear, concise directions and expectations are very successful. Students need to be taught, have the opportunity to practice, and see good modeling of the self-management skills that are expected from them (Hume, Loftin, & Lantz, 2009). Students are able to ask for help and ask questions when they are told to do so. Anger management skills are something that one sees on a daily basis in the classroom. The students with anger management need to work with a counselor on a weekly basis, take field trips together as a group, practice strategies that improve their reaction in tough situations, and have been praised by faculty when they handle their feelings appropriately. These students are successful when they are given the appropriate plan of action in these situations and practiced the appropriate reaction. According to Joseph & Konrad (2009), students that are unable to self-manage, often give up when they are confused. However, if the services provided and teachers are clear, then students will feel more comfortable and confident in themselves. They will be able to work and be successful. Teachers need to teach students self-management skills, allow them opportunity to practice these skills, and be good role models. These strategies will allow students to become more independent and continue to learn. One example is not building a ramp to go into a building or by not being invited. Focus needs to be placed on these people's strengths and teach them how to be dependent so that society cannot say that people with disabilities depend on them anymore. In a way, it is society's fault why some people with disabilities are not participating and involved with society. Reichle, Dropik, Alden-Anderson, & Haley (2008) asserted that independence looks different for each person with a disability and it is built over time with small steps. Each person's self-help skills are strengthened through their interactions with others who encourage them. It is important to help the "dependent" person feel a sense of accomplishment and help them build upon their successes (Schreiner, 2007). The ultimate goal when working with individuals with disabilities is to assist them in becoming independent. All members of society, to some degree, are dependent on others when making choices.
When people are dependent on others, such as a man who needs help getting from his wheelchair to the toilet, additional challenges are created for family members or staff who work with him. Unfortunately, a lack of independence can occur across all ages and disabilities, therefore it is very important to encourage independence from the beginning. To avoid being struck by a car, an individual that chooses to cross a busy roadway outside the crosswalk is depending on the driver of an oncoming vehicle to make the choice to slow down. The annoyed driver is not aware that the pedestrian is attempting to reach the bus stop as the bus is quickly approaching. Taking the chance to cross the road outside the designated crosswalk is based on the individuals' self-confidence to cross quickly without stumbling; and the past experience of receiving courtesy from other drivers. Although society attempts to create a barrier free environment (Boen, 2009), wheelchair ramps are incorporated into the crosswalks. If an individual is wheelchair bound or otherwise restricted in quickly crossing a busy street; that person will have to wait for the next bus. A person with severe physical disabilities is dependant of the sidewalk ramps at the corner crosswalks. Thus, limiting the person with severe disabilities from gathering the meaningful experience (albeit through a dangerous choice) of crossing in front of moving cars that will yield the right away.
Although the person with the disability is unable to quickly cross the street, the support of the individual may be dependent on other bus riders to alert the bus driver to wait for the person with the disability. The person with the disability is receiving the support of the other riders, in turn, avoiding a missed ride. In today's fast paced society, maintaining a schedule is important to most. The irony in today's society is if a person without disabilities upsets other car drivers as he/she frantically crosses a street to catch the bus, most likely other bus riders will not recognize the individual's intentions and not receive the same support as an individual with a disability.
Social attitudes towards dependent students vary greatly. It appears that the variation in these attitudes might, in some cases, be related to levels of education and awareness, geographic and socio-economic factors, and cultural and/or societal influences. Those who are most informed regarding the abilities and needs of individuals with disabilities are most likely those who will approach them with support and encouragement and engage them with strategies and behaviors that will enable and encourage them to move from dependence to greater independence. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there are those who are lacking in self-awareness, knowledge and/or empathy regarding the needs of others, specifically those who are dependent due to their disabilities. These people will most likely become uncomfortable and/or fearful when in the presence of those dependent persons and, as a result, treat them with insensitivity, ridicule, and possibly malice or contempt. Most people, however, will fall in the middle of this continuum of the understanding and perception of dependent persons. They will often feel the desire to "do the right thing" or be "politically correct" and to treat those with disabilities with respect and empathy (or sympathy). Yet, often, their actions, while well-intended, may either serve to keep those individuals in a static position or hinder their chances and efforts towards a more independent lifestyle. Thus, it appears that perception or stigma of disability continues to be a great barrier to independence and participation in the community for those with disabilities.
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Susan Sze, Niagara University
Peter Alexander Cowden, Niagara University