ⓘ Geography of disability is a branch of Human Geography focusing on the disabled or impairs and their experience. Disability refers to individuals with physical ..


ⓘ Geography of disability

Geography of disability is a branch of Human Geography focusing on the disabled or impairs and their experience. Disability refers to individuals with physical and intellectual impairments. The difference between the disability and impairment is that disability is the restriction of the ability caused by the actual decrement of functioning, aka impairment, of the individual. The Geography of disability studies the experience of disabled people and examines the relationship between the disability and space, ranging from the accessibility, mobility and the landscape, in terms of socio-economic, environmental and political perspectives. Hawkesworth, a scholar refers the Geography of disability as" a set of discursive and performative practice”, which intersects more with in the social and cultural aspects, instead of solely on the physical impairment.

According to the World report on disability published by the World Health Organisation, around 15% of the world population, which is approximately 1.14billion people, lives with a disability, of whom 2-4% experience significant disability. In Europe and America, the disability ratio is one in five people.

There are some major factors that give rise to the risk of non-congenital disability, which are age, their living environment, their gender and the access to healthcare. The report had shown that there is a strong correlation between age and the risk of disability, the elder tends to have a higher risk of disability such as Alzheimer, cognitive impairment. There is a global correlation between the disability and poverty due to the short of resources and government investment to medical service, and lack of access to healthcare. Inadequate infrastructure and investment could worsen the condition. In Australia, a research on disability conducted by Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Canberra had demonstrated a strong correlation that the more economically disadvantaged area or community people living in, the higher probability of these people will suffer from disability problem or severe disability, justified by the social gradient of disability correlation coefficient. The likelihood of having severe disability of the population who live in the disadvantaged area in Sydney were 2.6% higher than the population who live in the most economically and socially advantaged area in Sydney This correlation could also be seen in the United State. In the US, according to the 2017 Disability Statistics Annual Report conducted by Institute on Disability/UCED of University of New Hampshire, the distribution of people with disabilities aged from 18-64 has concentrated in the Southeast United States, including Georgia Tennesse, Louisiana and Arkansas etc., which are also the most economically disadvantaged area among the state. For examples, in Memphis, Tennesse, a city with 26.2% poverty rate is also one of the cities with the densest disabled population, 12.6%-17.8% of its working population aged from 18-64 live with disabilities. The figures also indicated that female is riskier of being disability than male regardless of their age. In Europe, according to the Eurostat, women are 3% more prone to suffering from a longstanding health problem, daily activity difficulties or both than men in Europe in 2011.


1.1. History Recent development of Geography of Disability:

Geography scholars had been recognizing the issues of disability since the 1930s. The study has then been extended to a range of socio-spatial processes relating to the issue arisen from disability, that interacts among power, space, and society. There were some analyses of disability within the socio-spatial perspectives, though these analyses tended to isolate from each other instead of integrating all ideas together as a critical discourse. It also changed the definition of disability from a medical point of view towards the socio-spatial determinants.

Imrie, explained the recent development in The Geographies of Disability as follows:

An opening observation is that what has emerged, since the mid 1990’s, has been a broadening of the substantive focus of studies of space and disability, beyond some of the earlier foci of health, cognition and behaviour, welfare, design, and architecture. In particular, the study of disability is evident in most parts of human geography, and not just confined to a specialist or sub-part of the discipline.

However, up to the early 1990’s, the study of geography and disability had been the preserve of specific niche areas of research activity, with some scholars, like Park et al 1998, suggesting that human geography had rarely engaged with studies of 7 disability.’’

The narratives and discursive practices, suggested by Hawkesworth, is also emerged in the geography of disability studies. It has developed to the interrelationships between the body, the feeling of a place and disability, suggested by Imrie, which lead to a wider and deeper scope and the focus of the studies especially regarding to different age groups with different extent and types of disability, for examples, children with learning difficulties vs elderly people.


2.1. The socio-economic of disability The models of disability

link to an external article: Social Model of disability

The medical model of refers Disability as the physical problem, the incapability of a disabled person to perform as normal’ as a person that has no disability. Disability intrigues a further disclosure on easing the inconvenience and improving a disableds daily experience. For example, introducing advanced assistive devices or aids like mobile wheelchair for disabled individuals who live on their own. On the other hand, the social model of disability evokes the idea of social integration through demonstrating the difficulties faced by the disabled in the wake of their physical or mental functioning decrement. The social model of disability encourages the mainstream social and cultural structure to accommodate the disabled individuals with more assistive infrastructure and social attitude.

In the Geography of disability, the research mainly focuses on discussing the relationships between the disabled, their basic human rights and the social development, as in the inclusion and the marginalization. This was one of the main study to research and approach the disableds need, address the problem without additional negative effects or embarrassment to the disabled pupils. Many of the disabilities do not have equal access to the resources aka the materiality or the basic human rights aka the non-materiality inequality as the normal’ population, such as healthcare, education, and employment opportunities. Their weak and limited physical ability led to higher and extreme level of difficulty to make earning and accumulate wealth by their own power as a non-disabled. This, as a result, make it more difficult for them to live out of poverty or economic disadvantage. Whats more, discrimination, inequality and social exclusion reflected from the mainstream’ society and thus received by the disabled population in different areas creates a virus circle of the disabled experience. Children and teenagers who has learning difficulties is more likely to cause them a discrimination, getting rejected by the mainstream school. The young disabled population aged 15–24 are 10 times more prone to receiving discrimination than the elder disabled population aged 65 and over. And it seems to them doomed to be/ inevitably be socially marginalized and excluded.

Imrie2007 further described in his article of how the geographical research methodology is carried out and work well for the social research on disabled people.

Hall and Kearns 2001: 243, for example, comment that traditional’ research methods, such as questionnaires and interviews, can fail to represent the geographical lives of intellectually disabled people’. Similarly, a project by Kitchin 2000, about the opinions of disabled people about social research, shows that most do not like the use of methods that fail to capture the complexities of disability. Such methods include pre-set questions that collect quantitative data and statistics. These observations suggest that the use of particular qualitative or interpretative methods are a preferred way of giving voice to disabled peoples experiences, and open up scope for inclusive research practices. In this respect, there have been some important methodological developments in geographical research that seek to articulate the different ways that disabled people know and experience the world."


3.1. Environmental politics of Disability The environmental politics of Disability

A disabled person’s origin and living environment, including the mobility, accessibility, space, living condition, greatly determine and impact his daily experience, and even affect his physical and mental condition. Space, resources, and investment to be invested in the infrastructure needed by the disabled population are somehow considered to be extra’, as the mainstream society has neglected, somehow judged and less inclined to put forward about it. One of the aim to be achieved through the geography studies of disability is to highlight the issue and problem the disabled population come across on daily basis so as to create a more including and less-tension society and community.


3.2. Environmental politics of Disability Accessible Tourism

The concept of the Accessible tourism is one of the significant developments derived from the development of the geography of disability. The idea behind the accessible tourism is to strive for a basic human right for the disabled to participate in tourism, and to promote the best accessibility practices in tourism by engaging representatives of international tourism sector as well as the representatives of disabled individuals and also non-governmental parties to cooperate. In the wake of the development of disability researches, along with the awareness of the need of tourists, the concept and the idea of accessible tourism which aim to promote tourism without barriers’ has gradually drawn peoples attention as well as the World Tourism Organisations publication. UNWTO has since published a range of information including Manuals on Accessible Tourism for tourism stakeholders to ensure the quality and quantity of the supply of good accessible tourism practises, and recommendations on Accessible Tourism for people with disabilities.

The research results of the geography of disability intrigue a further studies of universe design of space in relation to the mobility and accessibility, and the improvement of the assistive technologies to confront the barriers encountered by the disabled. The geographical model of disability was created during research of the geography of disability. According to Zajadacz, he stated that:" In recent years, geographers have made significant strides towards understanding the spatially of disability. This research has presented disability as a characteristic of the population that inevitably leads to marginalization and spatial exclusion from otherwise normal social arenas and spaces within the built environment. Geographers claimed that throughout the research on the geography of disability, they connected the cause of disability in terms of social and spatial environment and helped the promotion of more accommodating resolution which" provide access to sites and the full scope of life within society taking different degrees and types of disability into consideration.”

Gaining the idea of disability from the social model of disability and the geographical model of disability, the definition and the attitude towards Disability no longer limited only to the physical decrement of an individual, but evolve further to the consideration to disableds daily experience relating to social and spatial aspects.


4. Discrimination Law and Policy

In WHOs report about the disabling barriers, it said:

Beliefs and prejudices constitute barriers to education, employment, health care, and social participation. For example, the attitudes of teachers, school administrators, other children, and even family members affect the inclusion of children with disabilities in mainstream schools. Misconceptions by employers that people with disabilities are less productive than their non-disabled counterparts, and ignorance about available adjustments to work arrangements limits employment opportunities.”

In Australia, The Disability Discrimination Act 1992DDA illegitimate any direct or indirect discriminating actions towards a person, either temporarily or permanently disabled, or with the future potential of being disabled, in areas including employment, education, access to services and public places and rights to purchase premises.

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