The social model of disability advocates that disability is a social construction and emphasizes on how discrimination and stigma around disability is essentially the larger problem rather than disability itself. Our society has a tendency of considering Person with Disabilities as people who are not capable enough, dependent upon others, deserving of pity etc. Furthermore, in a society where everybody should ideally co-exist, PwDs are regarded as not just less than others but less than their own age as well. Infantilization is the practice of treating people who are no longer children as children. Treating PwDs as ‘grown up children’ is largely a mistaken way of thinking and is more common than is ever realized.
The many ways through which we engage in infantilization consciously or sub-consciously include baby talking, addressing the able-bodied caretaker and not the person with disability him/herself, assuming a person to be dependent and taking decisions on their behalf etc. The tendency to infantilize an adult person with disability is very common and while one may not even realize that they are doing it, it has far-reaching consequences for the person who is subjected to this kind of behaviour. Infantilization extends way beyond being merely a socially unacceptable behaviour and is condescending and insulting towards a person with disability. Even if it is well-intended or is done unconsciously, infantilizing of PwDs is nothing less than discrimination. Being treated as significantly younger than one really is not only frustrating but is also a way of dismissing one’s age, maturity and overall existence.
Recognising that PwDs have support needs is one part but using it as a basis to infantilize them is another. Thus, this leads to experiences of people with disabilities being overlooked and talked down to. There is a desperate need to stop associating disability with inability and how living with a disability does not change the status of an adult into that of a child.
Efforts should be made to put an end to the pervasive social devaluation of PwDs. Infantilizing PwDs might not always be an intended action and so it is essential that we educate ourselves rather than being ignorant about it. PwDs may not be able-bodied but they are not children either. They are capable enough to take charge of their own life and if and when they need support, they can obviously ask for it. It is time that we start practicing empathy and supporting PwDs without patronizing them.