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Posted 18 Jul 2023

Disability Pride Month: Are Neurominorities Included?

As reported by my colleague in Forbes, The first Disability Pride Day was held in Boston in 1990. It marked the beginning of disability rights legislation in the USA, which then rippled through developed economies across the world. Building on this celebration and following the lead of other equality movements, July is now designated #DisabilityPrideMonth and we can amplify voices of disabled people and celebrate the value of diversity during this time. For Neurodiversity advocates, this month leads us to a question:

Are Neurodivergent People Disabled?

Oft quoted statistics are that 20% of the world’s population are disabled and that 15-20% of the world’s population are neurodivergent. These numbers don’t stack up. There is of course, overlap. The extent of the overlap depends on some big estimations, but also acknowledgement that actually not all neurodivergent people are disabled. Disability status in law depends on the interaction with the environment and/or the extent of difficult with everyday tasks. In many US states, for example, you don’t get disability protection in education if you are neurodivergent unless at least one area of cognitive ability is in the bottom 25%. However, you might still be diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental condition. However, in the UK, if there’s a large enough difference between your strengths and weaknesses you are afforded support in order for you to achieve the level of your potential, depending on the context in which you are studying or working. So, world-wide, there’s a variable overlap.

Whether or not neurodivergent people identify as disabled is therefore an individual, personal question. On the one hand, some neurodivergent people feel selfish, assuming rights for which they feel they are less deserving than those with more complex physical complaints. On the other hand, some neurodivergent people are significantly compromised in daily activities. Further, who are any of us to determine where the “line” of deserving might be, where does that line of enquiry end? At what point does hearing loss become Deafness? When do mobility issues become observably disability rights? Such conversations inevitably lead to hard barriers that will leave those immediately either side in questionable positions. We have to embrace the analogue spectrum rather a binary “in or out.”

The Legal Position

Its for the above reasons that the legal position on disability deliberately leaves grey areas that can be interpreted on an individual case-by-case basis. In the UK, the threshold is whether a physical or mental differences creates “substantial adverse effect on one’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.” In order to meet the criteria, you need to define normal day to day activities and a substantial adverse effect. This leaves room for a person to argue their case and define their own difficulties. Under these conditions, neurodivergence has the potential to be a disability, but also may not be disabling. It will depend very much on the experiences and context in which the neurodivergent person finds themselves.

Social Model Of Disability

A point of agreement and collaboration between disability and neurodiversity advocates is therefore the extent to which the environment determines inclusion. Within the social model, disability is determined by the standard in the environment. For example, if all buildings and walkways had step-free access and smooth surfaces, wheelchair users would be less disadvantaged. Creating inclusive environments that suit all disabilities is complex and involves compromise and flexibility. People with sight loss, for example, might require bright lights and high contrast, whereas those with sensory sensitivity might require dimmed lights and softer contrast. The idea is that when these physiological discomforts are remediated to there will be a sharp rise in participation and performance for disabled people. In order to fulfil this ambition, neurominorities need to band together with the wider disability movement to ensure that designers and planner understand the full range of possible accommodations and adjustments required.

Ableism And Stigma

Some disability advocates have pushed back that to avoid identifying as disabled might indicate ableism on the part of neurodivergents. It has been suggested that a desire to avoid stigma undermines the work of reducing stigma. Many neurodiversity advocates assert their differences as superpowers. Others argue that such a stance glosses over the very real difficulties and stark marginalization experienced by the community at large. These conversations happening within the wider group are essential for developing our identity and acknowledging the aspects of our disabilities and differences that create strengths. However, we do need to avoid making inferences that different experiences intend to harm those who disagree or undermining someone’s lived experience.

What is demonstrably clear from the data on employment, poverty and discrimination is that both groups experience very similar difficulties and joining forces for the celebration of disability pride month is in all our interests. The following disability advocacy organizations embrace and include neurominorities: