United for Inclusion: Constitutional Reform and the end of myths

Taking advantage of the recent approval of the reform of article 49 of the Constitution, which marks a step towards a more inclusive society, I present this article to demystify some great myths about people with intellectual disabilities. This reform, among other things, removes the term "handicapped" from the Magna Carta, replacing it with the term "persons with disabilities". It represents a historic milestone and a new protective framework that dignifies Spanish society by recognising the rights and contributions of people with disabilities. My aim with this article is to inform and raise awareness about these myths rooted in society, based on lack of knowledge and prejudices, in order to move towards a more empathetic understanding and a more inclusive society.

Taking advantage of the recent approval of the reform of article 49 of the Constitution, which marks a step towards a more inclusive society, I present this article to demystify some great myths about people with intellectual disabilities. This reform, among other things, removes the term "handicapped" from the Magna Carta, replacing it with the term "persons with disabilities". It represents a historic milestone and a new protective framework that dignifies Spanish society by recognising the rights and contributions of people with disabilities. My aim with this article is to inform and raise awareness about these myths rooted in society, based on lack of knowledge and prejudices, in order to move towards a more empathetic understanding and a more inclusive society.
Gaspar González

Gaspar González Jurado-Gutiérrez

Reading time: 11 min

The final approval of this reform represents a historic moment and a significant step forward for Spanish society as a whole, especially for persons with disabilities. This historic amendment removes the term “handicapped” from the Magna Carta, replacing it with the term “persons with disabilities”.

The demand to amend article 49 of the Constitution has been a constant among people with disabilities in Spain. They consider it discriminatory and denigrating to be referred to as “physically, sensorial and psychically handicapped”. Although this wording was established in 1978, today, four decades later, it is considered inappropriate and even offensive.

Organisations and associations defending the rights of persons with disabilities have been calling for almost twenty years for the removal of the term “handicapped” from the Magna Carta, advocating for a more appropriate vision of the group in the 21st century.

This transformation goes beyond terminological correction; it establishes fundamental provisions to safeguard the rights of persons with disabilities. It includes the responsibility of public authorities to implement policies that ensure full autonomy and inclusion in universally accessible environments, with a special focus on women and minors with disabilities, and represents a historic milestone and a new protective framework that dignifies Spanish society by recognising the rights and contributions of persons with disabilities. This widely applauded measure not only adjusts the name, but also actively involves organisations and persons with disabilities in the development of policies and legislation.

Challenging stigmas: towards a more understanding view of disability

It is time to unravel the many myths surrounding people with disabilities, mostly driven by a lack of knowledge. As a society, it is imperative that we approach this unknown world as a fundamental starting point for genuine progress towards inclusion.

The myths associated with intellectual disabilities generate misperceptions and stigmatisation, having a negative impact on public perception and inclusion of people with disabilities. Addressing and debunking these misconceptions is essential to foster a more accurate and empathetic understanding. By debunking these myths, we contribute to building a more inclusive society that values and respects the unique abilities of each individual. The persistence of myths around intellectual disabilities fuels misunderstanding and stigmatisation, affecting both public perception and the integration of those living with intellectual disabilities. Unravelling these misconceptions is essential to promote a more accurate understanding. It is time to unlearn the known, in order to learn the unknown, starting with debunking the main myths surrounding people with disabilities.

Unlearning to Understand: Debunking Myths about Disability

In this article we want to put emphasis on informing and raising awareness about the myths and prejudices rooted in society about people with intellectual disabilities. Myths are misconceptions that have been formed over time about people with intellectual disabilities, based on prejudice or lack of knowledge. These ideas affect and disturb, as they influence social attitudes and practices towards people with intellectual disabilities. Below, we present several myths and their counteracting realities:

People with intellectual disabilities are poor and to be pitied

This is not correct. They are complete individuals, with a wide range of interests and unique characteristics that make them who they are. Like everyone else, they yearn to be loved, valued and recognised for their abilities and talents, without being discriminated against or prejudiced.

It is essential to understand that they possess abilities and potentials that deserve to be celebrated and respected, and that their diversity enriches the society in which they live. Promoting an environment of inclusion and acceptance is therefore essential to ensure that they can fully develop and contribute meaningfully to the world around them.

People with intellectual disabilities are sick

This is not correct. Intellectual disability is a condition that affects people whose cognitive development is different from the established norm. It is important to understand that these people are not sick, as intellectual disability is not a disease that needs to be cured. Rather, it is an inherent characteristic of their way of being and relating to the world around them.

Therefore, the key to promoting inclusion and respect for these people lies in understanding and accepting their diversity, providing them with the support and opportunities necessary for them to fully develop and actively participate.

People with intellectual disabilities are children forever

This is not correct. People with intellectual disabilities experience a continuum of physical, emotional and social development, similar to that of any individual. As human beings, they go through different stages of life, from infancy to adulthood, each with its own characteristics and challenges.

During their childhood, they may manifest child-like behaviours, exploring the world around them and developing basic skills. As they grow older, they face the typical challenges of adolescence, such as searching for identity and adapting to physical and emotional changes.

In adulthood, people with intellectual disabilities may exhibit behaviours typical of youth and adults, such as independence in certain daily activities, participation in social activities and seeking autonomy. It is important to recognise and respect their developmental process, providing the necessary support to enable them to reach their full potential and participate fully in society.

Intellectual disability is a direct indicator of global intelligence

This is not correct. Intelligence is not limited to a single measure, but is multifaceted and complex. Intellectual disability, far from being a direct indicator of overall intelligence, has a specific impact on certain cognitive abilities. This condition does not reflect the totality of a person’s intellectual capacities.

It is essential to understand that intelligence encompasses several dimensions, and intellectual disability does not define the entire intellectual spectrum of an individual. Rather than being uniform, intelligence manifests itself in different ways in different areas and contexts.

In this sense, it is crucial to recognise that a person with an intellectual disability may excel and demonstrate remarkable abilities in certain aspects, while experiencing challenges in others. This more holistic and comprehensive approach contributes to a more accurate and respectful view of diversity in human intelligence.

Intellectual disability is immutable and unchangeable

This is not correct. Early intervention, ongoing supports and adapted educational programmes play a critical role in the development of people with intellectual disabilities. These strategies, implemented from the earliest stages of life, offer a pathway to sustained growth and improvement. Through specialised and personalised care, they seek to enhance their abilities, promote their autonomy and contribute to their overall well-being.

This holistic approach is not only limited to addressing present needs, but also seeks to build a brighter future. It is an ongoing commitment that recognises the diversity of each individual, tailoring interventions according to their strengths and areas of development. Positive evolution is reflected not only in the advancement of specific skills, but also in the direct impact on quality of life, generating substantial improvements over time.

Thus, the combination of early interventions, ongoing supports and adapted educational programmes stands as a bridge to progress, fostering an inclusive and nurturing environment that enables people with intellectual disabilities to reach their full potential.

People with intellectual disabilities do not learn

This is not correct. This myth, by undervaluing the learning abilities of people with intellectual disabilities, overlooks the resilience, creativity and intrinsic motivation that people with intellectual disabilities can bring to the educational process. While some may require adapted pedagogical approaches and specific supports, this does not determine or limit their ability to achieve meaningful goals.

Diversity in ways of learning and recognition of individual strengths are fundamental to building a truly inclusive educational environment. Providing adequate resources, additional time and emotional support opens the door to educational opportunities that enable people with intellectual disabilities not only to acquire academic skills, but also to develop social, emotional and practical skills essential to their full participation in society. Challenging and dismantling this myth is essential to promoting equity and equality in education.

People with intellectual disabilities cannot live alone

This is not correct. When provided with appropriate education and the necessary tools from an early age, people with intellectual disabilities have the capacity to develop skills that enable them to lead independent, autonomous and productive lives. Through inclusive educational programmes and individualised support, their autonomy can be fostered and their participation in society promoted.

By teaching them practical, social and work skills from an early age, they are prepared to face everyday challenges and make decisions on their own. This allows them to develop greater confidence in their abilities and gives them the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to their community.

In addition, by providing them with a supportive environment and continuous learning opportunities, they are helped to achieve their personal goals and aspirations. This includes access to vocational training programmes, inclusive employment services and community support networks that enable them to develop their full potential and lead full and satisfying lives.

People with intellectual disabilities cannot form families

This is not correct. When people with intellectual disabilities acquire and master the necessary mechanisms for autonomy, they have the capacity to build their own families, establish meaningful relationships and, if they wish, become parents. Like any individual, the development of autonomy skills provides them with the opportunity to make fundamental decisions in their lives and to assume responsibilities in both the personal and family spheres.

Importantly, with the right support and access to family resources and support services, people with intellectual disabilities can have intimate and lasting relationships based on mutual respect and shared love. In addition, with appropriate guidance and counselling, they can address the challenges and responsibilities of parenting, thereby contributing to the growth and well-being of their family.

The ability to form a family and raise children is an important part of human development and personal fulfilment. It is therefore essential to promote inclusive environments and provide the necessary supports to enable people with intellectual disabilities to fully exercise their right to start a family and to live a full and satisfying life.

Persons with intellectual disabilities cannot represent and speak for themselves

This is not correct. From an early age, it is essential to encourage people with intellectual disabilities to develop self-determination, enabling them to exercise control over their own lives and to assert their opinions and preferences. This involves providing them with opportunities to make choices, express their wishes and actively participate in making decisions that affect their daily lives.

Promoting self-determination from childhood provides them with a solid foundation for developing their skills and advocating for their rights in adulthood. This includes teaching them to communicate their needs and desires effectively, to make informed decisions and to develop strategies for dealing with challenges that may come their way.

In addition, supporting self-determination fosters the development of self-esteem and self-confidence, enabling them to face life with greater security and autonomy. This gives them the opportunity to participate more fully in society and to reach their full potential in all aspects of their lives.

People with intellectual disabilities need supervision all their lives

This is not correct. Through a process of continuous learning throughout their lives, people with intellectual disabilities can achieve full autonomy and lead independent lives, without the need to rely on a paternalistic or welfarist approach. It is essential to provide them with opportunities for personal and professional development that enable them to reach their full potential and to participate actively in society.

By providing them with access to inclusive education and training programmes tailored to their individual needs, they are empowered to acquire practical and social skills that enable them to function autonomously in different aspects of daily life. This includes learning how to manage their finances, how to find and keep a job appropriate to their abilities, and how to establish satisfactory interpersonal relationships.

It is also important to promote an inclusive work environment that values and recognises the abilities and contributions of people with intellectual disabilities. Through supported employment programmes and work inclusion policies, people with intellectual disabilities are given the opportunity to integrate into the labour market and to achieve a satisfactory professional fulfilment.

In addition, by supporting their access to adequate housing, health services and community support networks, they are given the necessary support to build and maintain a family of their own if they wish to do so. This promotes their full participation in society and guarantees the exercise of their fundamental rights on an equal footing with the rest of the population.

Conclusions

In conclusion, it is important to remember that intellectual disability is not a disease, but rather a human condition that can be present from birth or arise after birth. It is not transmitted, and it is important to stress that it differs from mental illnesses.

Ignorance, overprotection, isolation, myths and mockery are attitudes that clearly undermine the self-confidence of people with intellectual disabilities, thus limiting their ability to develop and use their abilities according to their stage of life.

Raising awareness and educating society, promoting a positive, optimistic and hopeful perception of intellectual disabilities, is a responsibility that falls on every individual of good will. In doing so, we contribute to improving social supports and services, which directly impacts the quality of life and well-being of people with intellectual disabilities. This is the goal when we talk about leading the way towards a true, full and necessary inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities in our society.


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