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It is evident that marginalized groups in society face injustices in their everyday life, and when institutions in positions of power are given the opportunity to correct these injustices it is critical that they take the necessary steps to ensure the advancement of equality for all. Justice is a fundamental principle that directly impacts all domains of life, and is critical in the assessment of social policies and public institutions. Thus, it is vital to decipher why societal standards dictate that certain practices are just, while certain practices are not. Justice is a sense of fairness that is ultimately decided by a society’s collective morals. Injustices are evident when a person is not offered the same opportunities as others, which is inherently unfair. The connotation of the word varies from person to person, but it is crucial to understand these differences because what justice means to a person illustrates how they think society should function. The world is filled with natural inequalities, and a just society takes the initiative to level the playing field by attempting to correct disparities among individuals. The case of the child not being able to retrieve her lunch tray is a prominent example of injustice first because the school did not take action to correct this and second, the height of the counter was not designed to be inclusive to all students.
A good way to observe injustice is to contemplate the treatment of disabled people in society. Two key aspects of injustice are first, the treatment of some people as inferiors on the basis of irrelevant characteristics; second, the simple failure to correct disparities between individuals on the basis of irrelevant factors.
The best working definition of justice only exists in the parameters of equity. Although it is nearly impossible for society to ensure equal experiences for persons with disabilities, it is paramount society offers equity. Equity for persons with disabilities is a crucial exercise of justice in the society we live in. Since the very essence of justice is subjective, one can only accurately examine the legitimacy of the injustice in relation to the society’s collective conscious.
That being said, it is evident that in the United States the government sought it fitting to pass laws to ensure equity for persons with disabilities. The request for making the lunch tray accessible to the student would have some precedent when considering other modifications such as wheelchair ramps, which have been made nationally to ensure accessibility and safety for persons with disabilities. The necessity for reasonable accommodations stems from the widespread difficulty of equitably accommodating human variations. This view of justice demands a positivist approach in which people are entitled to help to ensure a certain right if they can’t acquire it themselves. This means that disabled persons are entitled to the same opportunities as others, including measures necessary to secure these opportunities. A reasonable critique of this definition of justice would be to ask where such an entitlement to the same opportunities comes from? How can societal definitions of justice impose an obligation on an individual, or an institution in this case, especially when it could be a burden?
Sure it would be nice if every student could reach the lunch tray, but is it necessarily the duty of a school to ensure this? It can certainly be argued that it is not the responsibility of the school to allocate resources such as money and manpower, to ensure one student can reach the counter, especially when the overwhelming majority of the students can reach for the lunch trays. It is essential to understand that a lot of the time, just behavior toward people with disabilities requires a substantial amount of additional resources and expenses, but this is simply the price society must pay to ensure equality and equity. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, therefore even if the height of the tray has a minimal impact on the student body, the school should not continue to perpetuate discrimination against the disabled student. Although it might be logistically and financially inconvenient for the school, a student not being afforded the same opportunity on the basis of her physical disability is still a form of injustice. Therefore, accommodations should be made when they qualify as being reasonable and don’t impose an undue burden on the institution mandated to make accommodations. Additionally, it is reasonable to assume in a hypothetical scenario where a person doesn’t know their characteristics such as class, privilege, and disadvantages most sensible people would support the definition of justice where it equates to fairness for all individuals. This gives more legitimacy to justice being fair and equitable, as opposed to justice not being defined by trying to balance those with disadvantages and those who won life’s natural lottery. Unfortunately, most things are designed to serve the majority of people without regarding the nuances of individual needs. Everyone has a different set of circumstances, so fairness also differs.
A disabled person should not have to adapt to fit into society, but rather, every society should strive to be inclusive of every individual. A lot can be done to remove the barriers disabled people face, and this is the task and responsibility of society rather than the disabled person. This is a systemic issue not just in schools, but in every sphere of life for those with disabilities. Systematic barriers obligate institutions to be more intentional because privilege hinders people from seeing that the system works in their favor. It is necessary to look at society as a compilation of sub-societies and not as a monolithic entity in order to harness respect for every individual, especially those who are atypical. There is no tangible universal physical standard, and it would detrimental to society as a whole not to offer accommodations to those who don’t fit an arbitrary standard. Asserting that accommodations don’t need to be made for the disabled implicitly places value on humans, ultimately leaving an internal residue of inferiority on the psyches of disabled people.
Disabled people have an impairment that has a clear impact on how they live their lives, but in certain situations, disabled people are disabled because of the world around them, and if the world was more accessible they would be less disabled. For the elementary school student, it’s not her physical impairment that is the issue in the scenario, it’s the fact the tray is not accessible. The disability is only evident when an individual is excluded because of that impairment. These barriers need to be lifted, and it is the responsibility of the school to ensure these things, and either lower the counters or have someone there to offer assistance. Incorporating equity into every aspect of public policy serves as a vital framework to ensure justice in society. A just society aims to improve the overall quality of life for its citizens, and in the same manner, the school has to be committed to eliminating all barriers inhibiting the quality of experiences students have while in school.
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