MARTIN Hannan’s bullet-pointed statement, “The huge contingent of disabled people, wheelchairs rattling across the cobbles” (Sunday National, October 7), may have been intended to portray a particular positive image but sadly it also illustrates a more general lack of understanding and progress in Scotland towards a fair and equitable society not just for people with disabilities but for all.

The people attending and using wheelchairs on the march are not disabled people but people with disabilities and often disadvantaged, particularly so in terms of social integration and opportunity. This is important because it illustrates how in Scotland we still have some way

to go to grasp the issues at the core of social integration, despite many individual actions that do indeed remove particular barriers for people with disabilities.

Enable, the UN’s world programme of action concerning persons with disabilities, in relation to the United Nations Charter on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), specifically notes that the term “disabled people” should not be used as it has negative connotations.

Its continued use reinforces the dated concept of there being two classes of able-bodied and disabled people.

Before developing the argument further, I would however want to note that I believe there are two important exceptions.

Firstly, for a variety of reasons, some people with disabilities and associated groups may want to be referred to as “disabled”. It is understandable why they might find strength in using such a term/description as a riposte or rallying point, when they find themselves marginalised and discriminated against in society. This is their right.

Additionally, the law will require a specific use of terminology that can be defined and tested against a benchmark in court. This will include “disabled person”. Yet, as seen in the case of many other of these legal definitions, they would not generally be used furth of a court/legal setting. The influencers of public opinion, from politicians to journalists, should not be referring to “disabled people”.

The Scottish Government’s delivery plan 2016–2020 for UNCRPD notes that “disabled people” is the term preferred in Scotland and this is based on the preference in the United Kingdom to base policy and practice on social models of disability, highlighting that disability is created by external factors to the person.

This was a very important model in moving on from the medicalisation of disability that had existed for many decades, but whilst we continue to adopt these models the world has moved on. The models of disability have been in change.

Worldwide during the past 40 years there has been an evolution from medical and individual models to social models, and from the 1980s onwards the World Health Organisation, the United Nations and latterly organisations such as the World Bank have been using a biopsychosocial model that places activity and participation at the centre of a person’s life.

Furthermore, it does not classify different types of human existence, ie able-bodied and disabled. It also acknowledges that for all of us, our functioning is not static; it changes day to day and year to year based on a range of personal social and environmental factors that interact and affect an individual’s activity, participation and involvement in life situations, and crucially it shifts the focus from cause to impact.

Many other nations have recognised that a biopsychosocial model, rather than a social model, is a far more appropriate base from which to implement not only the UNCRPD, but a wide range of conventions, agreements and social policy within an overall human rights framework.

In addition, it gives us a different perspective when looking at particular government actions such as the introduction of Universal Credit.

Finally, in this brief summary, if we are to be an outward-looking independent country, striving to be at the forefront of social policy and

creating a fair and equitable society for all, we need to be speaking the same language as other nations we aspire to join, such as our geographically close European and Scandinavian neighbours. Few of them are referring to “disabled people”, and neither should we.
Iain Prain