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The importance of human diversity to a good life

In this video, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Therese Sands and Gwynnyth Llewellyn discuss ideas of human diversity, disability inclusion, and a good life

In the previous step, we explored our diverse understandings of a good life. In this step, we explore:

  • how disability is a dimension of human diversity;
  • how valuing human diversity and diverse ideas of living a good life can help to enable a good life for everyone;
  • how restrictive understandings of a good life and of what it means to be human can lead to the exclusion of people with diverse impairments from mainstream society.
In the above video, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Therese Sands, and Gwynnyth Llewellyn, who all work in the area of disability, discuss the various linkages between disability, diversity, social inclusion, and a good life. Rosemarie refers to the disability rights movement, which predominantly took place during the mid-20th century, as a “diversity initiative” which sought to increase the social inclusion of people with disabilities around the world. As she explains, in contrast to the social exclusion of people with disabilities in earlier periods, there was a growing awareness during this time that disability was simply another dimension of human diversity. This appreciation of disability as a dimension of diversity went hand-in-hand with a loosening of restrictions on the participation of people with disabilities and impairments in mainstream society.
While the disability rights movement has promoted a more inclusive approach to disability, importantly, it has also promoted the social model of disability. As Therese explains in the video, the social model makes an important distinction between disability and impairment: “impairment” refers to a health or medical condition, whereas “disability” is what emerges from the interaction between one’s impairment and the physical, attitudinal and organisational barriers in their society. We refer to the social model many times throughout this course and its sister course, Thinking through Disability. As Therese says, viewing disability within the context of the social model can help us to understand how social barriers to a good life might be dismantled and human diversity celebrated.
In addition to presenting disability as an aspect of human diversity, the presenters in the video highlight the diversity within the disabled community itself. As Rosemarie emphasises, nearly everyone will have a disability at some point in their lives, which makes disability a “capacious” (or big) diversity initiative. In saying this, she implies that disability is an umbrella term which captures a huge range of experiences of different impairments, disablement and contexts. As Gwynnyth goes on to explain, understanding this diversity among people with disabilities is essential if we are to understand the diverse conditions necessary for people with disabilities to live good lives.
While there are certain things that all three guest speakers agree on, they differ in their focus. Rosemarie is quite optimistic about how far we’ve come towards an inclusive society. She emphasises that disabled people who were previously excluded are now able to be “out” as people with disabilities in public. She uses the evolution of prosthetics which no longer mimic the fleshy leg as evidence of this. For Therese, who works directly in disability advocacy, there is a sense that while the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has promoted more inclusive understandings, there are still barriers and stigmas towards people with disabilities. Similarly, Gwynnyth suggests that rights are not all that is needed for people with disabilities to live a good life. She argues that health, for example, is also fundamental to living a good life.
The video introduces several other concepts that we will unpack more as we move through the course, such as ideas about human rights, advocacy and activism, and what it means to contribute. It also includes some key terms you might like to look up in the glossary, including the “social model of disability,” the “disabled people’s movement”, and “disability inclusion”.

Talking points

  • What is your understanding of the relationship between disability and human diversity?
  • How does understanding disability as a part of human diversity shift attitudes?
  • How can embracing human diversity help to enable a good life for all?

Expand your interests — In Step 1.12: AKASA case study – Part 1, we explore an organisation which aims to promote social inclusion for diverse women with disabilities in rural Sri Lanka. You can skip ahead to this step now, or wait to see it later in the week.

In the next step, we introduce Mel, your learner guide.

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Disability and a Good Life: Working with Disability

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