In the picture on the next page, we see a moment in Tina’s life. Think about what is happening in the picture. Next, answer the following questions in your group and note your answers in this worksheet.
I wanted to go to a certain music festival in summer. But it would be difficult to get there and move around in the wheelchair. I knew that the bunch of people, which I wanted to go with, won’t be able to help me all the time. And maybe, they even wouldn’t want to. Another bunch of friends went to another festival and offered me to go with them. I wasn’t much excited about going to this second festival. But it was clear to me that this bunch of people are willing to help me during the second festival, and that I even won’t need that much assistance thanks to the festival’s wheelchair accessibility measures. So, in the end, I at least went to the second festival. But it bothers me because that way, I didn’t see the bands I wanted to.
It’s difficult for me to find new friends, with whom I could share my interests, just like that. I need assistance in some situations, and that’s why, sometimes, I have the feeling I should repay the others for their friendship. I have the feeling that I’m not any good for these people to be friends with me just like that. To be asking for help can create an imbalance in a relationship, and, especially, to demand help from someone because I need it right now when this was not arranged beforehand. In an instant, a friendship becomes the subject of exchange, plainly one thing for another, and I should be giving something in return. It’s as if I couldn’t have normal relationships because I am often relying on the help of others. And, to need help is not considered normal. My disease gets gradually worse which means that I need increasingly more assistance. That’s the reason I can allow to be myself less and less in relationships with others.
We have just read a real story from Lora. Now, let us try to answer the following questions:
The story of Tina, who recalls her experience from a festival, shows that for a wheelchair user, not just physical but also social barriers can be limiting.
Tina can decide between two festivals: a festival she would very much like to attend but without assistance, and a festival she is not that much keen on going to, but where she would have help from her friends available. A choice that Tina faces here reveals the dynamics of a personal dilemma that Tina does not encounter for the first time in her life — not having the opportunity to decide according to her wishes but according to her medical condition.
Apart from her interest and wishes, she has to take into account numerous other things such as the festival’s wheelchair accessibility, the link between her and her friends who will be able to assist her with certain activities, transport options to the festival, and so forth. She would not have to deal with these problems if she did not need to use a wheelchair. Not just physical barriers — such as stairs or bad surface — play a role in Tina’s decision-making, but a significant part is also played by social barriers, i.e. the possibility of another person’s assistance.
Most of us tend to think about disabilities only in terms of the physical barrier and its elimination. However, we do not realize that many obstacles do not have just physical form. This is caused by the fact that we are used to thinking in terms of the so-called medical model of disability. It considers the body to be a machine that, if not functioning ideally, is needed to be repaired to get into its original state. According to this model, in society, there exists only one type of “right” body — the healthy body. Each body that does not fall within this model must be “cured”. In practice, this model manifests itself in the fact, for instance, that barriers are considered only in their physical realm. As maintained by this model, a user of a wheelchair or other assistive technology primarily deals with the availability of physical objects, not meaning or consequences of whether they get there or not. In Tina’s story, the physical obstacle of a festival has a wider significance — it constrains Tina’s interests and development. By this, Tina’s story illustrates the limits of the medical model of disability.
The social model of disability addresses these limits by taking into consideration the uniqueness of each body — each body has various abilities and is not a machine, identical to others. Therefore, it does not problematize the functionality of a particular body but the society’s perspective that takes into account only certain types of bodies. The social model does not see the problem in the body itself but rather in the way society regards it. This model stresses a wider significance of barriers and the fact how our perception of disabilities through the medical model affects our interactions and relationships with people living with disabilities. In Tina’s story, we can see this dynamics in her reflection of relationships as transaction. She feels that when she wants some form of help or assistance from somebody, this need creates an imbalance within the relationship. More likely so if this help was not arranged beforehand. In her life, Tina runs into the limitations of the medical model, which does not accentuate the social dimension of disabilities, and she experiences her needs as overly demanding and something to be repaid.
“It’s as if I couldn’t have normal relationships, because I am often relying on the help of others. And, to need help is not considered normal. My disease gets gradually worse, which means that I need increasingly more assistance. That’s the reason I can allow to be myself less and less in relationships with others.”