Friday, June 22, 2007

Reader question: Why do you talk about disability culture when you want inclusion?

"The elements of our culture include, certainly, our longstanding social oppression, but also our emerging art and humor, our piecing together of our history, our evolving language and symbols, our remarkably unified worldview, beliefs and values, and our strategies for surviving and thriving. I use the word "remarkable" because I find that the most compelling evidence of a disability culture is the vitality and universality of these elements despite generations of crushing poverty, social isolation, lack of education, silencing, imposed immobility, and relentless instruction in hating ourselves and each other."
-Carol Gill

Great question. Thanks for sending it. Let's start by talking about disability culture.

It's certainly not easy to explain disability culture in a few sentences or in a blog post. I decided to use the above quote because it addresses various aspects but I'd like to add my own experiences of disability culture before I answer the reader's question.

As Dr. Gill notes, there is a "remarkably unified worldview" among disabled people. I discovered this when I first went on a Ski for Light (adaptive skiing program) trip with blind friends. I was the only MIP (mobility impaired person) there among the VIP's (visually impaired person/s). At first I was unsure if all of us would "speak the same language" considering I had a different disability. I found out that we certainly did, emphatically so. In my own life, I can attest to the fact that there is a disability culture with its own language, worldview, beliefs, values and strategies for surviving and thriving as Dr. Gill puts it so succinctly.

Although disability culture is a very real phenomenon, I believe its public expression has been blocked . More voices that represent disability culture are being heard now. As that continues to happen, there are more opportunities for others to view our art, read our writing, watch disabled comedians, dancers and performing artists. With inclusion, even more opportunities will exist- even in everyday conversations.

Personally I don't believe that we can achieve inclusion simply by making it a goal for disabled people to assimilate into able bodied society if there is no recognition of disability culture. This may seem paradoxical at first. But full inclusion requires more. Full inclusion is about creating a community for all of us.

Inclusion does mean working toward addressing the physical and attitudinal barriers that exist which bar access in our society. So if you take a step back and watch how it works, you might think that full inclusion is achieved when a person in a wheelchair has physical access when they didn't before. But it's just a first step.

I define spiritual inclusion as embracing the richness and diversity of experiences various members bring. I believe we need to openly recognize disability culture like any other culture because any other approach simply homogenizes members.

Able bodied people can and do learn about disability culture and this will be part of the process of inclusion. What disabled people bring with them to the table as part of their life experience is equally valuable to a world that values diversity. Inclusion can't be about simply merging into the status quo. That would rob everyone of the gift of sharing their diverse experiences. This sharing is necessary in order for our communities to be whole.

I'll leave you with a quote that describes what I'm explaining.

"We, the disabled community, as we demand a place in the sun, are a reminder to the whole human family of the need for justice, for inclusion. We stand uncomfortably, often within our faith communities, reminding them that they cannot be who they are without US. We do not ask for their pity, we ask for justice, and we say to our faith communities, “Don’t include us in your community, but together we must create a community which is for all of us. And that is very different”. We are not asking the faith communities to be nice to us and feel good about it, We are saying, “You cannot be a faith community without us”.

Portion of the keynote speech entitled ‘Exploring the spiritual dimensions of disability’ given by
Father Michael Lapsley

1 comment:

goldchair said...

This is a great post for discussion . I think many people who first hear this point of view really have to shift perceptions to understand what it means. It's really all about being members of the same body (in the Christian point of view) and that body making a whole.

I went to one church where I joined a men's group. One meeting was held in a person's home and it wasn't accessible. I was just told well you can't come but we'll let you know how it goes. One person said look this is our group, he's a member so we should have it somewhere he can get in. It won't be the same without him. They decided not to change the place after the meeting and I wasn't able to go but at least the idea was raised that the whole group wasn't whole and it wasn't just put on me like some guilt trip for wanting to be there or some privilege for being able to attend. If you know what I mean. That's my two cents anyhow.