More than three decades after the passage of the People with Disabilities Rights Protection Act (身心障礙者權益保障法), care and services for people with profound intellectual and multiple disabilities (PIMD) have made little progress in the nation, experts said at a conference in Taipei this week.
People with PIMD have severe intellectual and physical disabilities ranging from hearing, visual and learning impairments, to swallowing difficulties, epilepsy, scoliosis and other disorders, underlining their need for extensive care, said the Maria Social Welfare Foundation, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to helping people with disabilities.
Speaking at the conference, Markus Dederich, professor of special education theory and rehabilitation at the University of Cologne in Germany, referred to PIMD as a state of “complex disability.”
He said that the “complexity” refers to the details of these individuals’ daily lives.
“The individual manifestation of cognitive disability is influenced ... by family and social development contexts” in a way that disability arises only when there is an “insufficient fit between the abilities of a person, the expectations and requirements directed towards the person, and the environmental conditions,” he said.
It is a paradigm shift from regarding them as “deviating from normal development,” a qualitative evaluation, to recognizing their existing potentials and needs, which is a quantitative approach that interprets the difference in terms of degree and intensity, he said.
Recognizing the needs of people with complex disabilities “requires an ethical and normative basis,” the construction of which is a “deep cultural project” that is “not only about barrier-free environments and rehabilitation,” he said.
Lisa Wang (王國羽), professor of social welfare at National Chung Cheng University, agreed, saying that education and other services for people with PIMD in Taiwan are too focused on the how the service is provided rather than the user of the service.
For instance, in implementing the policy of inclusive education, “what they did was simply place students with special needs in the classroom and nothing else,” Wang said.
“A much-needed discussion of human rights or rights to education between administrative officers and first-line educators was nonexistent. The plan was in this sense half-baked,” she said.
Wang added that Taiwanese have a shallow concept of people with different needs, “having an outlook that is based on what [they conceive] people in general are like.”
Dederich said that a change of attitude is possible through education and increased contact between people with PIMD and society, “rather than putting them in institutions on the outskirts.”