Skip main navigation

Perspectives on diversity

In this video, various presenters discuss different perspectives on disability as a dimension of human diversity.
MAN: FutureLearn. [THEME MUSIC] UNSW Australia. Perspectives on diversity.
ZOE PARTINGTON-SOLLINGER: I don’t feel like I have to be seen as normal. I’m absolutely happy to be seen as a person that is different. That’s fine for me. I don’t need to feel that I have to, I suppose, mirror other people and do the things everybody else does. I’ve got the freedom as a disabled person, because I’ve had my impairment for more than 30 years, to be happy with it, and to do things in a different way, and not feel that I have to– it’s kind of hard to describe in a way, but I don’t have to be seen to be the same as everybody else.
I think when you do that it’s very, very hard work, and it tires you out, and you struggle. I don’t need to be fixed. I don’t need– I do have a lot of medical intervention, but I don’t need that to move forward. I don’t need to get back to how I was before when I had a lot of sight. I’m really happy and comfortable with the sight level that I have, and it makes my life more interesting in many ways.
JOHN GILROY: So within a particular racial group or ethnic group there’s cultural diversity. So in Aboriginal Australia, there’s a diversity of cultures and languages. So I often say that, within Australia, there is an essence of multiculturalism, bilingualism, and within Aboriginal communities, there’s multiculturalism, as well. So there’s a diversity of cultures. There’s a diversity of cultural groups. So in Australia, we use the concept of nations. So I’m a Koori man from the Yuin Nation, but within the Yuin Nation there’s diversity as well. There’s diversity of values. There’s diversity of beliefs. We have youth culture. We have culture amongst women. We have culture amongst men. So we have men’s business, and we have women’s business.
So I often say that there’s diversity amongst race across a whole world, but there’s also cultural diversity within those racial cohorts, within those racial groups. And that often influences how Aboriginal peoples define and understand disability. In my mob, down the south coast, we have many people with disabilities, but it’s not really spoken about. It’s that particular person. So when it comes to a child– for example, I’ve got a little niece. She’s about, oh, five, six years old now. Happy little champ of a kid. She runs around, energetic, eats me out of house and home just like any other child. But she has a physical developmental disability. So she has anencephaly.
And we understand that that may impact on her intellectually when she gets older. It may impact on her physical, intellectual, cognitive development, but we don’t make that be her identity. She’s my little baby girl. She’s our family’s baby girl. My mother calls her granddaughter like she calls all of her grandkids, and we just see that as her, as normal. And she contributes to the family household just like many other families. So she helps clean up with dishes. She plays with toys. She’s got friends. And her friends and her cousins don’t see her as different. The only time she’s seen as different is when she goes to school.
The school system sees her as different, as a child with special needs, as this child that is able to bring in funding into the school system. What I find is that when you take many Aboriginal children out of their family, out of their home, and place them into a Western institutionalised system like the education system, it then becomes seen as a problem. So disability is then seen as a problem, as opposed to being a part of being human, of being part of everyday life.
DENISE BECKWITH: In some ways, I wish Maslow’s hierarchy of need was sometimes put on its head, because then sexuality and sexual expression would be given more value. There are a lot of stereotypes held about people with disability and their sexual identities. There is a lot of thought that people with disability are only heterosexual, which is not true. Like everyone else, people with disability like diversity in their relationships. They’re attracted to different groups of people, and so quite often it can be hard to establish relationships because a lot of those relationships come from a heteronormative perspective. So if you are gay and a person with disability or you are bisexual, then that complicates things. It make things complex.
Because people see the disability, and then they get– they’re afraid by that, let alone sexuality. People forget that, yes, there is duty of care, which is a legislative requirement– anything that is reasonable for another human being, but the other side of that coin is dignity of risk, and that is allowing people to make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes. And that is what a good life is to me– being respected so that I’m given duty of care and the respect that I deserve, but it’s also being given the right to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.

Throughout this week we have been exploring how important it is to value human diversity. In this step we look at different perspectives on diversity and how these perspectives can impact on people’s ability to live a good life.

First, Zoe Partington-Sollinger emphasises that valuing human diversity enriches her life and the lives of others. She talks about embracing different ways of doing things and explains that she doesn’t want to be “fixed”’ and doesn’t try to be “normal” because this is tiring work and is not particularly interesting to her.

Dr John Gilroy, a Koori man of the Yuin Nation, explains the diversity of the Australian Aboriginal population. He describes how in his community impairment is recognised as a part of human diversity and a part of everyday life. But he goes on to explain that the same impairment becomes a disability when someone from his community enters the wider Australian community, such as when his niece goes to school. What John describes here is a useful example of the social model of disability, where disability is so clearly created by the interaction between the individual and their social context.

Denise Beckwith talks about diversity among people with disabilities in relation to sexuality. She suggests that people with disabilities are rarely recognised as having diverse sexual identities, and she stresses the importance of balancing “duty of care” (or the obligation to ensure the safety of others) with “dignity of risk” (or the respect of individual autonomy and decision-making).

Talking points

  • Clearly, these guest speakers provide just a few examples of human diversity across cultures and among disabled people. What are some other forms of human diversity which have not been mentioned here?
  • What did you find particularly interesting from the speakers’ discussion?
  • Based on these stories, what are some of the ways in which particular social norms or attitudes might clash with the diverse goals, beliefs, values, identities, experiences, needs or desires of people with disabilities?

In the next step, we take a closer look at what it means to be “normal.”

This article is from the free online

Disability and a Good Life: Working with Disability

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education