1) Define the word disability?
A disability is an impairment that affects either physical, mental, sensory or learning aspect of a person to participate in what would be defined as “normal” ways of living.
2) Within your line of work, how often do you have an encounter with people living with disabilities from ethnic backgrounds?
This can very and will largely depend on the demographics of the area within which I work. For example within the current borough with which I am in Newham London, the Asian community is the most dominant within the area, compared to previously working in hackney where there was a high proportion of BME living with disabilities.
3) In your view, how is disability viewed within the BME community and why?
I’d say due to advances in technology amongst the younger generation, disability is certainly understood in a much broader sense. More is being done to increase the awareness of BME associated conditions such as sickle cell, lupus etc. The traditional views of old are beginning to be challenged and more are seeing disability for what it is…an impairment, which can be managed with the right support…not a life sentence to a form of isolation.
4) In your professional judgement, why is this subject of disability covert within the BME community and why?
Following on from my previous point, yes there is still a minority who have covert and destabilising views on disability. This I believe is shaped by experiences and beliefs that have stemmed from either traumatic experiences or culturalistic ideologies that have governed their lives. Within my time in my profession when speaking with people subject to disabilities this tends to be the reasons.
5) What are some of the stereotypes or stigmas associated with disability within the BME community?
These can range from a different set of stigmas all of which are dependent on what type of disability you are associating with. A condition such as schizophrenia will generally be viewed different than a condition such as sickle cell. Learning disabilities and developmental conditions in general do not have much nationalistic exposure let alone within the BME community. Although not exactly a stigma, the general consensus I personally feel is that most aren’t comfortable and possibly are quite weary of this type of group. Mental health conditions at whatever stage can be viewed as crazy, attention seeking, ungrateful and my personal favourite, being under spiritual attack. Physical health conditions again are somewhat hit and miss. This again is purely due to a lot of misinformation. For example person A could develop diabetes type 2. With proper guidance and an early prognosis, they could go on to live the rest of their lives without having further complications while following whatever advice given to them. Person B could develop the same condition, due to their associated stereotype that only fat people develop diabetes, they may continue living the same lifestyle and develop further complications such as increased high blood pressure which could result in a stroke. Common stigmas attached to disabilities include that a person will always be dependent and will require special attention. This is complex to explain further as you have to look at it from both the person who is living with the disability and also the person who isn’t. Both include the same stigma but with different outcomes. One may apply this stigma and decide that they will try everything in their power, even putting themselves at risk in order to remain as independent as they can to avoid the stigma. The other in their overzealous, often good willed actions may over compensate for the person being cared for by means of best affections as they render the person as being unable to manage anything for themselves.
6) What are some of the barriers preventing BME persons living with disabilities from seeking for help and support?
The main barriers I think are cultural ideologies and an encouragement for information finding. Within our communities we are not encouraged enough to explore things outside of our communities and expand on our knowledge base. Many are usually comfortable with what they know and see anything else as irrelevant until it becomes a problem for them.
7) What support is available for BME persons living with disabilities?
There’s plenty of support in today’s world. A BME person living with a disability only needs to search on google to find various charities set up that target those with a disability from a BME background. However the most simplistic way of beginning is to contact your local nhs service or local council. Here you can always speak with professionals who can signpost you to outreaches within the area, as this is where such outreaches will be supplying their information to.
8) What can we as a community do to help tackle this issue + raise more awareness about this matter?
I believe what goes on now is a good representation of what should be going on. Social media has made headways in giving a platform for many individuals with disabilities a chance to showcase their lives and bring more awareness to what’s faced each day for someone living with a disability. More can be done within mainstream education I believe to get young children talking about disability from a younger age and challenging some of the debilitating stigmas that may’ve been inherited from their older counterparts. There is a fine line between what a community can do vs what the government will allow us to do. I say this because whatever outreaches, charities etc, that as a community we want to achieve; at some point this would require government funding in order to expand to a wider audience. That said more public funding needs to go into organisations/charities that are dedicated towards the cause of increasing the awareness of these issues. Also more entrepreneurship needs to be demonstrated within this area too I believe. Many people can think of the next Afro Caribbean restaurant but rarely have I seen a service that has been brought up that can tackle this need.
James Simwanza, Occupational Therapist.