Disability is always a bit of a stigmatised subject, and many people like to use euphemisms instead of the word ‘disability’. However, many disabled people find this quite offensive and infantilizing. When it comes to neurodiversity, it becomes even more complicated as not all neurodivergent people consider themselves to be disabled. So, the first thing to emphasise is that this blog (and the whole series of posts I’ve written) reflect my own personal thoughts. So, if you can, please do seek out the voices of other neurodivergent people! As I’ve mentioned before we are an incredibly diverse group and don’t all feel the same about things. I just hope that this project has sparked some new thoughts and discussions on these topics.
For me, I identify as disabled because legally I am. The equality act defines disability as:
‘a physical or a mental condition which has a substantial and long-term impact on your ability to do normal day to day activities.’
In this framing, being autistic is disabling for me because it does impact my ability to function in day-to-day life. Our society wasn’t built for neurodivergent minds, so we are often left overwhelmed and unable to function. I need some reasonable adjustments to function and thrive in life, both at home and in the workplace, and that’s okay!
Here’s where some of the nuance comes in: there are two main views of disability that are currently discussed in the literature: the social model and the medical model. The medical model views disabilities as symptoms and deficits which should be cured whereas the social model, which is popular within disability studies, says that:
‘a person is “disabled” when the (societal) environment doesn’t accommodate their needs. An example: in a world where ramps and elevators are everywhere, a wheelchair user isn’t “disabled,” because he/she/they can access all the same things as a person who walks: schools, jobs, restaurants, etc. However, providing equal opportunity doesn’t mean ignoring the differences and difficulties a wheelchair user may experience’
– Clearing Up Some Misconceptions about Neurodiversity, Scientific American
Personally, I very much align with the social model of disability. Being autistic doesn’t mean I’m deficient, but it does mean that I am disabled by my environment. Sometimes in a very profound way. For example, I can’t go to a supermarket most of the time because of the sensory challenges that it presents. Luckily, we have home delivery of groceries these days which helps overcome this challenge for me. I also have some reasonable adjustments as a PGR which really help support me in my work.
The Surrey Sunflower Initiative supports people with hidden disabilities and/or invisible illnesses. This may include neurodivergent people who feel they are disabled by their neurotype in our current society.
If you see someone wearing a sunflower lanyard or badge, it means they may have additional needs that are not initially obvious. For neurodivergent people, this might be things like needing to leave lectures when overwhelmed or taking a little more time to process verbal information. When I wear my sunflower lanyard, I feel more able to stim freely which helps reduce sensory overwhelm.
Not everybody who has a hidden disability requires additional support, and not everybody who requires additional support will wear a sunflower lanyard or badge. You can learn more at: my.surrey.ac.uk/news/surrey-sunflower-initiative