The WORK & Abilities Blog

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Normality and Handicap


In my last text, Cognitive Bias and Support I talked about cognitive bias’ advantages in quickly getting the picture of a situation, but also the disadvantages, such as acting based on previous experiences, assumptions or stereotypes. This leads me to the idea of normality in relation to disability.

Normal or Abnormal?

According to Larousse, one definition of the adjective “normal” is, “which conforms to the most usual”. For example, when forecasters say that it will be warmer than normal the next day, it’s a comparison between the temperature of a target day and the average seasonal temperatures, over time. Even if a reference is made to a seasonal normal, the temperature of a target day cannot actually be considered abnormal, since it’s an average, composed of the days when the temperature fluctuates.

Normality is also a subjective value based on concepts that can be interpreted in various ways. Whatever is considered the norm or the observation of repeated elements. It’s a global view (a homogeneous whole, the parts are not considered individually) that creates the idea or the impression of normality.

Therefore, the creation of a concept of “normality” relies, paradoxically, on calculations based on the amalgamation of differences. It does not amount to much, when examined closely, because it’s invariably composed of a myriad of unique components, sometimes extremely different from each other. Each individual component has its own normality.

Normality and Employment Support

As an employability professional with people with disabilities, it’s important to question perceptions of normality that may be present in our own network, among employers and with our clients. The goal is to understand the reactions generated by them to better understand the factors that influence our relationships. It can maximize the positive effects of support and prevent stakeholders from feeling judged and misunderstood.

In our approach with clients with disabilities, it’s important to understand a person’s background and have a portrait of their experiences, successes, failures, network and, of course, the situation regarding their disability. A good understanding of the big picture makes it possible to better comprehend the way clients perceive themselves regarding career development and to identify needs together. Addressing the disability situation is essential, but it’s the client’s strengths, knowledge and skills that must be central to the process.[i]

To be comfortable with this approach, at first professionals can be prepared to ask the right questions, improve and remain current in their knowledge of the disability. They can also develop their professional network to share more on the subject and further their understanding; but also improve their knowledge of the available services and have a better grasp of the labor market.

According to Statistics Canada, 22% of the population lives with at least one disability, because of a long-term condition or health problem[ii]. Therefore, it’s almost a norm to know someone with a disability and that your next client may have a visible disability or not.

The issue of social norms can be a challenge for workforce development, but don’t forget that diversity as a whole remains an asset for the community. It’s up to all of us to better understand that our environment is heterogeneous and remain aware of our behavior and the people around us.

“I’ve never really met a normal person” – Normal Person (Reflektor) – Arcade Fire[iii]

A collaboration of Étienne Légaré, Treasurer of l’Association québécoise des professionnels du développement de carrière (Quebec Association of Career Development professionals)

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[i] Sajma Aravind, Gideon Arulmani. 2019. “Practice Points for The Cultural Preparation Process Model: Working with Students with Dyslexia.” In Career Theories and Models at Work: Ideas for Practice, Nancy Arthur, Roberta Neault, Mary McMahon, 484. Toronto: CERIC.

[ii] Government of Canada, Statistics Canada. 2018. “New Data on Disability in Canada, 2017.” November 28, 2018. .

[iii] Arcade Fire. 2013. Normal Person. Vol. Reflektor. Montreal: Sonovox, Merge.