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What is contribution?

In this video, Educators Louisa Smith and Karen Soldatic introduce Week 5 of the Working with Disability course, which looks at ideas of contribution.

This week we look at the diverse contributions of people with disabilities. In the above video, Educators Louisa and Karen kick off the week by introducing different definitions of contribution.

As Karen mentions, even in the dictionary the meaning of contribution assumes a particular type of act: “to give something, especially money or goods, to help a person or an organisation” (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, 5th Edition: 1995, p. 252). As Karen and Louisa go on to discuss, this understanding focuses on money and economic transactions. It implies noticing and valuing only economic forms of contribution, which can deny or ignore other important roles we might play in society, or other forms of help we might give to one other.

This narrow view of contribution can also undervalue ways of contributing that may not be immediately thought of as one person “giving” to another — such as participating in the advancement of human knowledge, creating jobs, or contributing to human diversity.

At various points in this course you have seen how being valued in society — or making a “contribution” — is often connected to productivity and employment and (less often) to reproduction and childrearing. However, for many people with disabilities, making these kinds of contribution can be problematic, whether because of their impairments or because of the disabling effects of society.

Finally, we often see the idea of “contributing” discussed in relation to someone, or some organisation, giving money or goods to people with disabilities. Too often, non-disabled people are asked to contribute to disabled people’s lives through giving money to large disability charities. This kind of contribution can set up an unequal relationship: the non-disabled person gives, and the disabled person is the passive recipient. Rarely do we hear about people with disabilities contributing to others.

Talking points

  • What do you think of when people talk about “making a contribution”?
  • Have you heard the word contribution used in your situation? Does it tend to relate to the giving of money or goods? Or is it used in other ways?
  • If English is not your first language, how does the term “contribution” translate, and does it have a similar or different meaning?

In the next step, we begin to explore how to think about contribution differently.

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Disability and a Good Life: Working with Disability

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