Tom is a Research Fellow at Newcastle University. His non-fiction books include Genetics Politics: from Eugenics to Genome and The Sexual Politics of Disability.
Disability: an accident waiting to happen?
11th May 2009
But the truth is, disabled people are more likely to suffer accidental injuries. Like my friend Noeline, who is also short statured. She fell off a stepladder whilst putting away the Christmas decorations and broke several vertebrae. Us restricted growth folk take all sorts of risks, climbing up to get things which are out of reach.
And what facts. Children without disabilities had a 2.5% chance of having a non-fatal injury; with disabled children that rose to 3.8%. That's a 50% higher rate, in case you can't be troubled with the maths. The risk was even higher for children with visual impairments (4.2%), ADHD (4.5%) and asthma (5.7%). And the chances of sustaining a burn injury were 103 per 10,000 – which again is nearly 50% higher than for non-disabled children.
All of which sounds worrying. But wait for this one: children with disabilities are over five times more likely to be hit by a car when walking or cycling, than non-disabled children, according to 2002 US data.
My assumption is that such injuries may be increasing because disabled people are more likely to participate in the community. If we are out and about on the streets, then we are more vulnerable to crashes, just as our increasing visibility may make us more vulnerable to harassment and hate crime.
There's a trade-off between safety and independence. You could stay in all day and remain safe from hassle and impatient drivers (although you can't rule out burns, scalds, falls and domestic abuse). Or you could participate in the big wide world and have a small – but still significant - risk of an accident or encountering a bigot.
We need to mainstream disability, so that the injury prevention community understands that we are a group at particular risk. At the World Health Organisation, I am working closely with colleagues specialising in violence and injury prevention to ensure that they include disability in their work. Greater awareness may produce better policies to reduce the dangers - and may also remind disabled people and their families not to take so many risks in the first place.
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