Seeking Independence and Autonomy

Last week, an article was published highlighting the desire of two young men – who both happen to have disabilities- to participate in a cage fighting event. The article has sparked controversy, rightly so, over the violent nature of the event and the organizations and people permitting such an event to even take place. Some believe that people with disabilities should not be able to cage fight, both due to the mere nature of the sport, and because they have a disability (and could be manipulated into the fight, rather than upon their own volition). That being said, the controversy surrounding this fight brings out a larger issue within the disability community: the fine line between serving and controlling the lives of people with disabilities.

The phrase “most vulnerable population” is evoked almost every time people with disabilities and their care are discussed. Yes, people with disabilities are more vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and medical challenges than the general population, but this vulnerability is not a means of controlling every aspect of people with disabilities’ lives.

We have already concluded that community living is the best environment to serve individuals with disabilities – especially for promoting independence – yet when it comes to the foods they want to eat or the activities they want to participate in, the service providers, staff and families often feel the need to protect people with disabilities to the point of sheltering them. As long as an individual is over the age of 18, they are legally allowed to make their own choices as it relates to their health,  finances and relationships.

Though having a disability may incline individuals to protect and filter the exposure of their loved one to potentially harmful or mediocre choices, we must let people with disabilities experience, learn, and gain wisdom in the same manner that people without disabilities do: trial and error. Now, by no means is the NAMPWD promoting giving a person solid food when they require a blended diet, or allowing a person to drive without their license – those are clearly life or death instances – but as it relates to participating in sports that are approved by their physician, or eating that fourth slice of pizza, it is the persons choice. If we are going to continue to promote person centered planning, then we cannot continue to shelter people with disabilities from “real life choices.” Autonomy and responsibility are learned through experiences, people with disabilities should share in every experience possible.

Is MMA cage fighting gory and violent? Unquestionably.  Are these two young men incapable of participating in fighting because of their disability? Absolutely not.  An individual’s feelings about the sport (in this instance) should not limit the choices of family members or consumers with disabilities. People with disabilities already face the restrictions and limitations from societal stereotypes, we should not continue to shelter them because of the same assumption that all people with disabilities are vulnerable.

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