Perspectives: Risk

Perspectives: Risk. Dignity of Risk by Dr. Philip Wilson

Perspectives is a blog inspiring change through different perspectives brought to you by our Constituent Advisory Committee (CAC), HDC staff, and local community. Our current theme is risk. If you have a perspective on risk as it relates to disability, email your idea to

“Dignity of Risk” by Dr. Philip Wilson

Anyone who leads a life of dignity and meaning takes risk ( Robert Perske, one of the originators of the term “Dignity of Risk,” once said, “The world in which we live is not always safe, secure and predictable. Every day that we wake up and live in the hours of that day, there is a possibility of being thrown up against a situation where we may have to risk everything, even our lives. This is the way that the world is… to deny any person their fair share of risk experiences is to further [prevent them from the experience of living a healthy life].

People who support individuals with disabilities often try to eliminate risks in their lives, usually with the best of intentions. When we eliminate the possibility of risk for others, we diminish their dignity and prevent their exercise of personal agency. What can result is a life in which a person has never been tested, had the opportunity to grow and the possibility of experiencing the satisfaction of achieving something that was not certain to be achieved from the beginning.

To fully participate in the community as an adult, one must be free to take reasonable risks. This does not mean that we should turn a blind eye to all risk! Rather, by providing supported decision-making to individuals with disabilities they may be able to exercise prudent risk-taking. Prudent risk-taking creates many teaching/learning opportunities that can lead to dignified and self-directed lives for those we support. By supporting individuals with disabilities to try new things, test their limits, consider pros and cons of decisions and/or actions they may discover capabilities, interests and opportunities they might never have known if others had “eliminated” all risk in their lives.

Click here to read our last Perspectives article “A Daring Adventure” by Jamie Duplechine.

Young man looking off into distance, thinking.

About Philip Wilson, PhD

Philip (Phil) Wilson is director of the Human Development Center and LEND, and a Professor in the School of Allied Health Professions at LSU Health Sciences Center-New Orleans. Throughout his career, Phil’s focus has been on supporting individuals with developmental disabilities to participate fully in the community and preparing future generations of professionals to continue moving society toward improved quality of life, agency and full participation in the community by persons with disabilities.