"Disability" is a controversial word. It replaced the word "handicap" when that word began to offend those with disabilities, but the controversy surrounding the concept hasn't gone away. What constitutes a disability? What sort of accommodations, if any, should be given to those diagnosed with a disability? How far should a school district, a business or society itself go to make life easier for those with disabilities? These are not questions with easy or definitive answers, but they are certainly worth considering and debating.
Are Learning Styles Disabilities?
In the 1960s at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H., John Irving was told by his English teachers that he was stupid and a terrible writer. No accommodations were made for him. He would go on to become one of the most successful American novelists of the 20th century. He would also be diagnosed with dyslexia. By today's standards, dyslexia is considered a disability by many and a learning style by others. Which is it? Should teachers be expected to make accommodations and exceptions for students with dyslexia and other learning differences? Or should such students have to fend for themselves as John Irving did?
The Americans With Disabilities Act
The Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990 was "a wide-ranging legislation intended to make American society more accessible to people with disabilities," according to the Job Accommodation Network. Its five major sections have led to changes in areas of employment, public services, construction and even telecommunications. While no one could argue that all these changes haven't aided people with disabilities, what about the cost to society? How much money has it taken to build ramps and new toilets, to widen doors and sidewalks? Should tax payers without disabilities have to subsidize the lives of those with disabilities?
Why are Some Conditions "Disabilities" and Not Others?
Imagine you were an insomniac, and you get an average of three to four hours of sleep per night. Your condition is not your fault and you have tried everything to cure it. Is your insomnia a disability? An impairment? It certainly would affect your driving, your concentration, your ability to perform well on tests and countless other daily tasks. Should the world around you seek to accommodate your special needs? Should your neighbors be forced by law to quiet down earlier? Should your boss create different hours and altered expectations for you? Should society be taxed in order to pay for your sleep tests, doctor visits and prescriptions? How does society define a disability and where does society draw the line?
What About Self-inflicted Disabilities?
A soldier who goes off to fight for his country in a war and gets his leg shot off could never be blamed or held responsible for his disability. But what about someone who loses his leg bungee jumping? Should that thrill seeker be entitled to the same rights and accommodations of the war hero? Do we need to take the cause of one's disability into account when awarding the disabled with things such as insurance or permanent disability payments?
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