Personal, Cultural & Structural

Personal – Introduction

This includes your ability to influence other people and the circumstances you face.

It includes confidence, communication and other interpersonal skills.

For example, how do you feel when talking to a group of new people or people you feel are more powerful than you? What scares you about this and what makes you feel confident to do this?

128Px - 339Activity 1 – Joining a new class in a different area

The ‘Personal’ within this context refers to how accepted, welcome and ‘in control’ we feel in any given situation.

Task 1 – Feeling welcomed

For example, think about joining a new class in a different area.

Q1: How would this make you feel and what would you want other people to do to make you feel welcome?
Q2: What role do teachers have in encouraging the class to be welcoming?


Task 2 – Reflections

Collect some images from newspapers, magazines and websites of disabled young people and in small groups consider how this makes you feel about ‘disability and youth’.

As you discuss this, you could consider:

Q3: Do these images reflect the everyday life of a young person?
Q4: What does this tell you about the person?

Now create a poster which you think reflects how society perceives disability (you may produce this individually or in collaboration with others).

Task 3 – Listen

Watch David explain how he feels when other people approach him:


Cultural – introduction


WordleThe use of particular stereotypes, language, imagery etc. communicates certain cultural meanings about a subject, issue, person or group. Negative portrayals of disabled people as ‘weak’, ‘victim’, ‘freak’ or ‘hero/supercrip’ will often feature in everyday life; significantly, these representations can be accepted and even expected to the extent that they become ‘normalised’. How the media and popular culture communicates about disability can impact public perceptions which, consequently, negatively impacts upon the experiences of disabled people and the opportunities available in education, work, training, housing and/or social relationships.

  • Can you think of any specific media images or representations of disability?
  • How would you describe them? Which cultural meanings might be embedded within them?
  • Consider also the ways in which cultural myths and fairytales might reinforce negative stereotypes, for example: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.


From myth to reality…..

Media coverage of comments made by Lord Freud concerning pay for disabled people is an example of stereotypical views about the worth of disabled people: [Accessed 15/10/09]

In response to this statement Labour was urging a welfare minister to resign amid reports he suggested people with disabilities could be paid less than the minimum wage.

Ed MilibandEd Miliband, the then Labour Leader, said Lord Freud told Tory activists last month some workers were “not worth the full wage”. He challenged David Cameron to distance himself from the remarks, saying they represented the Conservatives’ “worst instincts”. Mr Cameron said these “were not the views of anyone in government”.

In heated exchanges during Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Cameron said he did not need lectures from anybody about looking after disabled people and urged the Labour leader not to cast aspersions.

Lord FreudThe then Disabled Affairs minister Esther McVey told the BBC that the comments were wrong and could not be justified. The BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson said he understood Lord Freud would be asked to apologise and to restate the government’s support for the minimum wage or would be asked to step down.

Conservative minister Lord Freud reportedly made the remarks during a fringe meeting about welfare changes at the Conservative Party conference. Also consult this article from a newspaper, which discusses the comments made by another MP referring to “normal, non-disabled people”; therefore, implying that disabled people are ‘not normal’.

128Px - 339Activity 2 – What do you think?

Task 1 – Reflections

Q1: What do you think about the negative comments that can sometimes be made in public and by public figures about disability?
Q2: How do you think it makes disabled people think about their own self worth?

Do some research and share findings in groups to consider the following:

Q3: What do you know about the history of how society has treated young disabled people?
Q4: How has cultural understanding of disability changed over the decades?

Add details of historical figures or statistics about disabilities.

Task 2 – The History of Disability

Reflect on the information you have sourced above from the English Heritage website on the history of disability. Consider how things are different in the present day.

Choose one of the following tasks –

1. On a flip chart produce a mind map of the differences between then and now.
2. Produce visual images which depict the changes in disabled people’s lives through the ages.

(Use the following website to help you with this: Historic England).

Task 3 – Code of Conduct

Watch the video below, carrying out the task Phillippa outlines where you will create your own Code of Conduct.

Guidance extracted from “A National Framework for Disability, Equality & Ettiquette Learning (DEEL) for Health and Social Care Services”, DRC and Department of Health, 2007, includes “Impairment Related Disability Etiquette” which states the ‘dos and don’ts’ when working with people with disabilities. Use these to help you.

Task 4 – Challenges in Communication

Read the following document, published on the Mencap website, which may help you to consider what challenges you might come across when communicating and how to make yourself understood: Communicating with people with a learning disability – PDF document

Watch the video below – a poem written and performed by a group of students from the Seen But Seldom Heard project, about how they feel when people stare at them.

Popular Culture and Disability

How we form ideas about disability is often reinforced by the types of images we see around us, including through newspapers, magazines, TV, films and the internet.

What types of messages do we receive from these sources about what it is like to be disabled? How often are disabled people portrayed in TV or film? How is disability portrayed? What sorts of roles are disabled people typically cast in?

128Px - 339Activity 3 – Your recent events

Think about a recent book you have read, or a TV programme or film that you have seen.

Q1: Are there any disabled characters in it?
Q2: Does the book/TV or film show people with disabilities in the mainstream of life with other friends?
Q3: How are the characters portrayed?
Q4: Does the plot just focus on the character’s disabilities or does it also focus on the character?

The Paralympics

The recent London 2012 Paralympic Games have made disabled athletes more visible than ever before. Their achievements have been shared with millions across the world.

Consider the following picture of disabled athletes and film of Paralympic sprinter, Ben Rushgrove:


Interview with Ben Rushgrove:

Q1: What impact do you think the Paralympic Games has on society’s understanding of disability?

Structural – Introduction

Disability, like age, class, race, gender, and sexuality, operates as a form of social division – it categorises people and assigns them to a particular social position. This plays a significant role in maintaining the social order. Professor Stephen Hawking (2011: 3) in the foreword to the first World Health Organisation report of disability suggests ‘we have a moral duty to remove the barriers to participation, and to invest sufficient funding and expertise to unlock the vast potential of people with disabilities’.

Ref: Hawking, S (2011) (WHO) World Report on Disability, WHO and World Bank: Geneva,p. 3.

128Px - 339Activity 4 – The “word” disability

Write down what the word disability means to you.

Now click on the following links to see different definitions of this word.

Equality Act 2010
World Health Organisation
Centre for Disability Studies, University of Leeds
Oxford English Dictionary

Q1: What do these different definitions tell you about societal attitudes towards disability?