What is Dignity?
Dignity is a right that we all have. It is our right to be valued and respected for who we are, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or abilities. In practice, dignity also means conducting yourself in a way that shows self-respect and a dignified approach to others.
When it comes to people with disabilities, dignity is an important part of their care. A person with disabilities wants to feel dignified and their carers must treat them with dignity. It is a two-way process.
When caring for a disabled person, dignity often refers to matters that involve personal care, such as washing, dressing and bathroom visits. These are all highly personal activities that most of us perform each day without much thought. You would hardly consider how highly private these activities are unless you suddenly had to do them in front of someone else. Imagine a stranger following you around for the day and watching you dress, use the toilet or bathe. It feels uncomfortable; that is why dignity must be observed when it comes to assisting another person with these tasks.
When a person can’t communicate their care wishes or are aware of the concept of dignity they should still be treated with the same care and respect that we would all like to receive ourselves.
What Does Dignity Mean to Someone with Disabilities?
A person with disabilities who requires another person and specialist equipment to perform their daily routines can feel embarrassed or ashamed. Especially if the care given makes them feel undignified. This can occur for several reasons; usually to do with the care giver or the environment.
Being treated with dignity means that a care giver makes the receiver feel as though they are being respected and that their privacy is important. The environment and equipment should also be suitable to provide dignified care.
People with disabilities encounter a range of challenges but one of the biggest ones is visiting the toilet when not at home. This can often lead to undignified situations for both the individual and the people assisting them.
Just a recent example;
Last year, Anne Wafula Strike, a British wheelchair racer and Paralympian was forced to wet herself on a train because there wasn’t an accessible toilet on the train. Speaking to the Guardian about the incident, she said:
“The whole incident made me feel as if I can’t play an active role in society and should just hide behind closed doors. Being forced to sit in my own urine destroyed my self-esteem and my confidence. People with disabilities don’t want perfection, we just want the basics and to have our independence. But lack of access and inclusive facilities make us feel as if we are an afterthought.”
Anne is very independent, so you can imagine how these problems are even worse for people who aren’t even able to use a regular accessible bathroom. People with severe disabilities who need assistance using the toilet are often faced with having to wait until they get home to be changed or even worse, not going out.
Changing Places campaigner, Lorna Fillingham echoes this when talking about the lack of suitable places she can change her disabled, eight-year-old daughter:
“A lack of Changing Places toilet facilities in the community limits disabled people’s lives. It limits their social, cultural, health and educational options, for who would choose to go to places where the correct toilet facilities are not provided.”