On Equal Terms – Working With Disabled People

Edited by Sally French.

Butterworth Heinemann


ISBN 0 7506 0751 3

This is a book to make you angry. Targeted at health
professionals it aims to ‘explain the ideas and perspectives of the
collective voice of disabled people’. It then goes on to make
suggestions on how practice should be changed to ‘work with
disabled people as allies in their struggle’.

The first part of the book gives a potted history of the
development of disability as we know it today. Called
‘Understanding disability’ it deals with definitions, images,
expectations and the disabled people’s movement.

In the second part, ‘Working with disabled people’ there are
specific chapters on gender, ethnicity, abuse, learning difficulty.
It also deals with practice issues in relation to attitudes,
research and legislation, among others. In chapter eight French
states: ‘The relationship between disabled people and health and
welfare professionals has never been an easy one, for it is an
unequal relationship with the professional holding most of the

This is the nub of the whole issue. Generally, professionals
have abused this power since they first assumed it.

It reminds me of the reasons why I personally steer clear of the
medical profession. These are ‘the dismissive patronising, punitive
and unhelpful attitudes and behaviour sometimes displayed … by
health and welfare professionals’. Strong stuff.

Sally French traces the roots of such behaviour and goes a long
way towards explaining it. The traditional ways in which we are
viewed, society’s confusion around disability and impairment
(French’s definitions, page 10), the almost total lack of a social
dimension to the training of health professionals, the
‘organisational climate’ – is it any wonder, I can hear you

Well, it can’t work both ways. If it is the professionals who
hold ‘most of the power’ then it is pointless to say that none of
the problems ‘are the fault of individual health and welfare

For it that were true, what would be the point of this book?

Lorraine Gradwell is the chairperson of the Greater
Manchester Coalition of Disabled People and works for Healthy
Manchester 2000.

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