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SELF-DETERMINATION AND THE DIGNITY OF RISK
By Erin Zerba
Self-determination and dignity of risk play an important part in living an independent life, but what do these concepts mean?
Having self-determination means making your decisions about what happens in your own life, instead of having other people make those decisions for you. People who have self-determination advocate for what they want and they play an active role in solving problems in their own lives. They choose and set goals for themselves and then work to reach them. They don’t have to do everything for themselves, but instead, they have a say in what happens in order to improve the quality of their lives. Not all decisions result in positive outcomes. This is where dignity of risk applies to self-determination. Dignity of risk means being able to make choices that could have negative consequences and being able to experience those negative consequences. These may include: getting physically injured, getting lost trying to navigate public transportation, getting your heart broken at the end of a romantic relationship, and many other human experiences that those without disabilities face every day.
Being allowed the dignity of risk is an important component to having self-determination. A common barrier to having self-determination is being denied dignity of risk out of the desire of wanting to protect a person with a disability. While this desire to protect is well-intentioned, it often stems from the misconception that people with disabilities do not have the ability or skills to make their own decisions or are not able to emotionally handle negative consequences.
Experiencing both positive and negative consequences for choices we make in our own lives help us grow as individuals. Through dignity of risk, we learn what we want and don’t want in our own lives. We also can experience empowerment, which can be categorized into five main parts – social, educational, economic, political and psychological. Feeling empowered in our own lives can improve our physical and mental health as well as boost our confidence and self-esteem, and improve our sense of purpose and quality of life.
“I don’t need easy. I just need possible.” – Bethany Hamilton
Bethany Hamilton was a rising surf star when, at the age of 13, she survived a shark attack. Despite only having one arm, she returned to professional surfing. Bethany said the above quote when responding to her father’s comment that training for a comeback would not be easy. She didn’t want easy. She just wanted to be able to surf. She was given the dignity of risk to determine her own way on how she was going to live her life.
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