Cultural Contexts of Disability and Diversity

by Allyson Hamblett

I attended a conference on 1st March at CCS Disability Action. It was for staff and the Local Advisory Committee (LAC).  I’m part of the LAC, which advises the organisation on governance issues.   The conference was about cultural awareness in terms of disability.   It was very thought provoking and made me rethink disability and diversity.

The facilitator of the conference was regional manager Barbel Winter, who kept us on our toes constantly challenging our pre conceived notions of what it means to be human within our own cultural contexts, and within cultural paradigms of “fictional” worlds.

Having a disability is based on cultural understandings of how we understand the world to be. One exercise we had to do was work out whether certain issues like “having difficulty with speech” and “being able to recite Shakespeare” or “being able to run a mile” or “walking up stairs” were something to be concerned with or not, within the context of the work we do. Walking up stairs was not a big deal for me, because even though I have difficulty with that in an everyday context, my work at CCS Disability Action is based in a totally accessible environment at the Royal Oak office. We then had to decide whether these things were “disabilities”. The “having difficulty with speech” was an interesting one.   As a person who has difficulty with speech I see it as a disability because of the frustration it can sometimes create not being able to accurately articulate what’s going through my mind.   Some don’t see it as a disability because there are technologies that can augment speech.

We had to do the same exercise, but within a different cultural context – in this case it was a ‘fictional’ world that required morning Shakespeare recitals otherwise people would be jailed.

These exercises helped us understand how different ways of understanding the world influenced our thinking’s when interacting with people. Everyone makes pre judgements, we have to when we follow laws that govern the way we behave in society. For example we make pre judgements every time we decide to drive on the left hand side of the road, and stop when the traffic lights turn red. But our prejudices towards people can often hide what’s really going on in lives of individuals.

How do we respond to diversity? How do we accept difference? We have to go outside our comfort zones, by putting our prejudices to the back of our minds and accept new knowledge and understanding about people. The seminar gave me a new, creative way to look at diversity – and gave me hope that one day we will reach a place where diversity is celebrated