Stephen Hawking (I am taking his notes from the introduction of a book on occupational therapy, OT: “Meaningful Living across the lifespan” by Ikiugu and Pollard) noted some interesting parallels between persons with disabilities – and previously disadvantaged groups like women and black. A parallel, Joseph J. Fins also highlights in his seminal book “Rights come to Mind”.

Hawking then outlines what he things needs to happen to integrate persons with disabilities better into society and who the people are in his opinion who should make it happen. Further on, he highlights the role technology could play in this effort, and make a point I have been making in a more personal context: just because someone has a disability that doesn’t mean that they should be put to “carpet making and basket weaving” if they are mentally alive.

Understanding his remarks not literally but in a general sense it means, in my opinion, that persons with disabilities should be treated with the same respect as persons without these disabilities, to the fullest of their potential. There is no reason why someone, for example, acquires a brain injury should now have to live in different circumstances and in different company, and socialise differently than they did before – unless there are very good reasons for this.

Here is a picture of the page quoting Hawking, and below a transcription of the text, in case you find it hard to read.

“Now, however, people with disabilities and other previously disadvantaged groups, such as women and blacks, are demanding that they should be able to play a full part in society. As I see it, your job as occupational therapists is to make sure that they can. I cannot say that professional occupational therapists have been much help in my case, but maybe I just did not encounter the right therapists.”

Hawking went on to suggest that:

“With modern technology it ought to be possible for many people with disabilities to lead a life in the community and to contribute to society. It is the task of occupational therapists to enable them to do this. The important jobs involve mental and organisational abilities rather than physical strength and dexterity. This is the direction in which people with disabilities should be encouraged rather than being put onto carpet making and basket weaving,  which are inappropriate  for those who are mentally alive.”

There is another parallel between persons with disabilities, and especially those with very severe acquired brain injuries, are being treated and how other previously disadvantaged groups like women and blacks were treated.

Unless you were black, you were probably not so concerned about the fact that blacks did not have the same access to education as whites. Unless you were a woman you were probably not so concerned about the fact that women were not able to vote. Unless you have a very severe acquired brain injury (or have someone very close to you with such an injury) you are probably not so concerned about the fact that there is scientific evidence suggesting that 60% of persons in Ireland are misdiagnosed as being in a permanent vegetative state, when they are, in fact, conscious, and that this mis-diagnosis is used as an excuse, in my opinion, to deny these persons their basic and fundamental human right to a life, in dignity and respect, and, instead, to maintain them on a very basic level with a provision of “hydration, nutrition and medication”, telling parents to “face the facts”.

What we are facing is a human rights campaign highlighting the fact that persons are left behind. That they are abandoned. Based on the recommendation of many professionals, therapists and consultants, who are, at best, mid-guided. And based on our compliance.