Empowering Autonomy: Understanding the Dignity of Risk in Support and Care for Individual for Disability

July 5, 2024

What is the Dignity of Risk?

In our journey through life, we all cherish the right to make choices, big or small, that shape our individual paths. These choices, as we all well know, are often full of uncertainty and risk, positives and negatives, gains and costs. However, the birthright of every human being on this planet is the autonomy to decide for ourselves and choose our own paths and journeys, whether they lead to success, suffering, or the status quo.

The concept of the "dignity of risk" encapsulates the empowering belief that everyone, regardless of ability, has the right to make choices and take calculated risks. Sometimes, support workers and members of the support team, despite their good intentions, may unintentionally make decisions for the individuals they are assisting. While they mean well, this can deprive the individual of their right to make choices and take risks, which is a fundamental human right. A person with a disability does not deny them of this right.

To illustrate the significance of the 'dignity of risk,' let's explore its implications and impact in a seemingly minor and inconsequential scenario.

Scenario 1: Denying Dignity of Risk

Imagine a scenario where a support worker, well-intentioned and concerned about the health of their client with a disability, decides to intervene in a seemingly minor choice. The client, who had been feeling a bit down earlier in the day, was looking forward to a trip to the grocery store to purchase her favourite snack – a pack of delicious cream buns. However, upon reaching the store, the support worker firmly insists on the healthier option instead, fearing the potential negative impact of indulging in cream buns on the client's health.

While it's true that choosing the healthier option may have short-term health benefits, this decision comes at a significant cost. The client, in this instance, feels disempowered and frustrated. She perceives this as an intrusion into her autonomy, leaving her with a sense of being trapped or deprived of making even the simplest decisions about her own life. The unintended consequence of this well-meaning intervention is a growing resentment within the client. Over time, this resentment can erode her motivation to pursue independence and individual autonomy. It's worth pondering how you would feel if someone prevented you from making choices they deemed "bad" for you. Would you truly be happier, or would you feel stifled in your own life choices?

Scenario 2: Affording Dignity of Risk

Now, let's consider the same scenario, but this time, the client is afforded the dignity of risk. The support worker recognizes the importance of allowing individuals with disabilities to make choices and decisions in their lives, even if those choices include a treat like cream buns.

On this particular day, the client, who had been feeling a bit down earlier, eagerly heads to the grocery store with the intention of purchasing her favourite snack – a pack of delightful cream buns. The support worker, respecting the client's autonomy, lets her make the choice she desires.

While the decision to indulge in cream buns may raise concerns about short-term health implications, it also carries significant positive impacts. Allowing the client to exercise her autonomy and make choices in her life fosters a sense of empowerment and self-determination. It reinforces the client's belief in her ability to decide what is best for herself, which can have profound long-term effects on her motivation to pursue independence and lead a fulfilling life.

In the end, it's essential to remember that the dignity of risk is about respecting an individual's right to make choices, even if they don't align with what others might consider the "healthiest" option. It's a reminder that autonomy and independence are invaluable aspects of a person's well-being and should be nurtured and encouraged at every opportunity.

So What Do We Do?

In the face of individuals we're entrusted to care for and support making decisions we may perceive as not in their best interest, what should we do? Our role is to equip them with all the necessary information: laying out the pros and cons, discussing both short-term and long-term impacts, and presenting alternative options. Ultimately, the decision rests with the individual, and it is our duty to respect their choice.

It's important to emphasise that this post is not meant to lecture or pass judgment. We understand that situations in this field are rarely straightforward, and adhering strictly to guidelines can be challenging. We share this information as a gentle reminder for everyone working within the industry, as it underscores a fundamental principle. Striving for perfection is unrealistic; what matters is that we do our best. We extend our gratitude and admiration to all the remarkable individuals in this field who are making a genuine difference in people's lives. Together, let's continue our journey towards creating a better world.

This post explores the concept of the "dignity of risk," emphasizing the importance of allowing individuals with disabilities the autonomy to make choices and take calculated risks in their lives. It illustrates how respecting this dignity of risk can empower individuals, even if their choices differ from what others may perceive as "best.

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