Disability World
A bimonthly web-zine of international disability news and views, Issue no. 7 March-April 2001

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Exciting Kiwi Discovery

By Robyn Hunt (robyn@iecho.co.nz)

Medical history was made at the recent DPA New Zealand conference by the announcement of an exciting new discovery.

A Ph.D. student has almost by accident discovered a new medical condition, which she claims has reached nearly pandemic proportions.

Bronwyn Hayward, who identifies asd a disabled person is exploring how people with physical impairments negotiate disability labels and identities.

She explained that able-bodied experts define how well we do or don't accept our impairments and our disabled lives. She is looking at the question from the perspective of a disabled person. What does that mean to a person with an impairment, acquired or congenital.

Ms Hayward discovered the previously unidentified condition during her research. 'I discovered that most problems have a medical basis' she says. 'For so long labels have been applied to us as disabled people before we can get our basic needs met. While I was thinking of labels applied to me I realised that my disability was primarily other people's reactions to my impairment. I manage my impairment but what is so disabling is other people's inability to account for and manage my impairment. These poor people had a problem.' She has labelled that problem attitudeosis.

The full medical cause and label is: Attitudeosis

osis= denoting, state, condition, etc.

Attitude= means condition, state etc that is a direct result of problems in perception, and an inability to logically control thoughts, speech and actions.

In plain English, people with attitudeosis disable other people in the way that they perceive people who have an impairment. This problem usually manifests itself through their inability to logically control the things they think say and do, which in turn is disabling to people with impairments.

Taking some fairly radical outsider viewpoints, rather than insider knowledge, and then coming up with an outside expert way of labelling it achieves the diagnosis, Ms Hayward says.

She said that those with this condition do not always readily accept the diagnosis, and may exhibit resentful behaviour towards the medical label.

Treatments and therapies are still in their infancy. Ms Hayward discussed approaches with a deaf clinical psychologist who suggested a range of therapies and strategies to deal with attitudeiosis. One approach seemed to involve increased exposure to disabled people. Preliminary testing is underway but it is too soon to predict a rate of cure.

The reactions of disabled people have been very favourable during testing Ms Hayward reports. Symptoms are easily identified. She said an important aspect of the condition is that it can also easily infect disabled people. In disabled people it causes them to devalue themselves not because of their impairment but because of society's reaction to it.

There are some advantages for disabled people in the identification of this new label Ms Hayward says. 'It helps us identify where devaluing and difficulty comes from - not our impairments but others' reaction to them. It has really helped me identify my own case of attitudeosis over my own impairment. By acknowledgment I can understand it better.'

Further research is continuing to discover how this diagnosis can be useful for non-disabled people.

Mss Hayward gives a case study as an example. About a month ago she took part in a 'fun run.' The day was pleasant and she had just wheeled herself up what had been described as a 'gentle incline,' and was resting and reflecting on the benefits of recent visits to the gym while waiting for a clear run down the slope when two people came up the slope. As they passed her one said 'The poor thing You'd think they could at least have put her in the sun.'

'All of a sudden,' Ms Hayward says, 'I wasn't feeling so good, in fact this 'poor thing' wanted to run them off the path, and yell out, 'no-one put me anywhere, I'm not a thing, I'm a person and the only reason I'm poor is because I am a student'. But then I realised, those walkers, the poor things, they had attitudeosis!!

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