News and opinions on disability
and inclusion

Real choice

In recent years, reforms of disability supports have focused on giving people more choice and control. This has been hugely positive and we have been very involved in these changes, such as Choice in Community Living. With growing choice, however, comes new challenges.

For choice to be real, people need to be informed and not pressured. Choosing between options you do not understand is not choice at all, it is gambling. Pressure, either subtle or blatant, can also stop choice from being genuine. If one option comes with more support and resources than another that is not a real choice.

We unfortunately still see plenty of cases where the choices offered are not fair. For example, sometimes disabled students and their families are offered the option of attending a mainstream class with limited support and an unenthusiastic teacher or the option of a much higher resourced special class, with enthusiastic staff. This is not a real, or fair, choice.

Another often-overlooked issue is the role of emotions, stress and time pressure in affecting people’s choices. Research from the United Kingdom found that in times of emotional distress people find it difficult to make choices. A lack of time can also be an issue and having overly complex information and processes for making choices can eat into a person’s time.

In recent New Zealand research (You can ask our friendly Librarian for a copy), disabled people reported that one of the biggest barriers they face is a lack of time. People need enough information, time and support to make a real choice, but at the same time making choices should be as easy and straightforward as possible. Having choices should add to a person’s life, not become another barrier.  Complex forms, bureaucratic language and a lack of independent advice to turn for help, can all turn choice into a chore.

Making sure people have real choice can be a real challenge, but we need to rise to that challenge.

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