What is Autonomy?

“Autonomy” is one of those words that has several possible definitions depending on the context of how you’re talking about it. Some might define it as inclusion in public life, doing what you want, when you want, or simply self-rule. The World Health Organization Disability Assessment Schedule (WHODAS) measures the self-determination dimensions of functional, cultural, and social autonomy of people in developing countries. Information-sharing (what information, how much, and when) is an aspect of autonomy that is aligned with Facebook, YouTube,Twitter, and the realm of social relationships. The nursing profession has criteria to measure autonomy with regards to a person’s abilities to perform activities of daily living such as grooming, eating, getting dressed, etc. Also included in some definitions of autonomy is the degree of one’s participation in society and culture.

In another view of autonomy, Martin Seligman’s book Flourish defines an optimal life as equal parts positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievement. Each of these elements of an optimal life can be addressed by using smartphones, tablets, and social media. For example, communication with friends – through texting, or posting messages or photos on Facebook – is relevant not only to building and maintaining relationships, but also to engagement with the world around you. It also can be a clear demonstration of positive emotion, and can contribute to having a meaningful life. These technologies can enhance the ability of people with developmental disabilities to engage in relationships and activities that are meaningful to them.

Totally subjective views of autonomy are presented here, so that details of actions and activities are filtered through the person with a developmental disability experiencing them.

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One thought on “What is Autonomy?

  1. Benjamin, this is all so interesting. I am working on a doc program with a topic of social inclusion, and only touching on technology. You have brought a different perspective for me to look at. I will be referring to your work, so thank you!

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