The Human Model of Ability

After welcoming newly appointed Sandi Wassmer as CEO on 23 November 2020, enei asked Sandi to write about her experience with disability as this month enei raise awareness for disability within the workplace.

Pioneering the road to inclusion

When I registered blind back in 2008, my world went into a tailspin. One day I was just regular old Sandi with this funky eye condition, and the next day I was disabled. Just like that, in the simple act of deploying a white cane, to those who didn’t know me—and, to my surprise and chagrin, to some of those who did—I was no longer a person, just a disability. I was somehow stripped of my humanity and any of the qualities, skills, attributes, experiences, expertise, and the like that I had formerly been associated with. 

I’ve always been a human rights advocate, perpetually curious about the human condition. So, with a well-read copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to hand, I set out on the road to inclusion. I needed to understand the prevailing thinking, the social constructs that enable the kind of thinking that views an entire person as being disabled, and what the heck was being done about it all. 

I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I discovered that the medical model of disability no longer prevailed, and although the social model of disability certainly made sense and was heading in the right direction, I just felt it didn’t go far enough. In my mind, which is generally a busy and noisy neighbourhood, I started to consider a new approach. I called this the human model of ability. I guess it’s a cup half full kind of approach, where people are viewed as individuals, with all of the different characteristics that make them human.  

There were two key principles that underpinned this thinking. The first is that human beings are all equally human. The second being that the similarities between all of the different human populations are far greater than any differences between them. 

I want to live in a world where we embrace and celebrate each other’s differences. Why would I want everyone to be the same as me?

Sandi Wassmer

Intellectually, of course, I understand the factors that cause people to discriminate, but emotionally and experientially, in every bone, muscle, and sinew of my body, I simply do not. I want to live in a world where we embrace and celebrate each other’s differences. Why would I want everyone to be the same as me? That would be boring and probably quite annoying. I don’t want to waste my precious time on this earth looking at what I, or anyone else, doesn’t have or cannot do, rather, I want to be enjoying the multifarious things that make each individual human person just who they are. 

So I live my life with an open heart and eternally curious mind, enjoying all of the divergent gifts that the people I meet, know, and love have to offer, with the human model of ability always in mind. 

This blog post was written by Sandi Wassmer, CEO, Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion. It was originally posted on 30 November 2020 and revised in July 2022. 

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