The disability paradox

Some people, by no means all, wonder how certain sections of the community can have a good sense of wellbeing.

I was editing a book on this subject written by a friend of mine, Dr Rob Long an Educational Psychologist. There was a section in the book that described the disability paradox, I thought this was so relevant that I asked his permission to use it as a quote.

To make sense of this we need first to consider the disability paradox. Neurotypical people, that is people with a typical brain, believe people with a disability, whether physical or mental, are living an undesirable and unhappy life. However the paradox is that a significant number of people with disabilities believe that they have a very good quality of life. There are several aspects to this problem that need exploring. Firstly the human brain is biased to notice anything different from the usual. So for example if in a line of fences there is one at the wrong angle, we are drawn to that one. So when we see someone who has some physical difference then we are drawn to look twice. We project ourselves onto that person. How would we feel if we couldn’t, see, walk, talk, hear etc. The thought is both terrifying and unimaginable. So we assume that anyone with some functional impairment must be living a less than happy life. As a result we offer pity, not empathy. We can empathise with a friend who has lost their job, because we can more easily imagine being in that situation. But we cannot imagine the unimaginable. We cannot empathise with someone so very different from us.

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