Saturday, January 23, 2010

It has nothing to do with disability

I ran across a post discussing why disability "is not your analogy"and would like to add some thoughts.

Saying your quiche turned out badly is like having a disability apparently seems like it's not a big deal to some folks, but to disabled people, it shows ignorance.

Using it for an analogy appropriates the experience of being disabled. It takes the experience without permission or proper respect and only in part, meaning everything gets skewed. This sort of thing tends to leave out either the dimension of social oppression (as with the cooking example) or the impairment (the ‘we’re all disabled’ example). And it’s always used to say something negative: it’s setting up disability as the go-to reference for bad things. In short, using ‘disability’ for an analogy shows a lack of connection with disabled people’s experiences of disability.

This is not surprising since many in our society still blanch when a person with a disability talks about social oppression. When told about the lack of housing, transportation and access to equipment and services, some respond by saying "that's just part of being disabled". But it has nothing to do with disability. This circular thinking is used to justify eliminating the need to find solutions for the limitations that are imposed by barriers, whether they be physical, attitudinal, or systemic.

Systemic barriers, those which are ingrained into not just our institutions but the way we create our world and conduct our affairs in it, have not even been addressed yet except in piecemeal fashion with few exceptions. One exception - those who talk about universal design -speak about a world where the environment is functional for everyone. This eliminates the need to retrofit housing, public buildings and other environments that are originally built with the assumption that they will only be used by non-disabled people. Instead, places are created with the needs of all in mind.

So-called solutions that keep the experience of being disabled segregated and "special" often fail. They don't take into account that the ultimate solution is for the experience of being disabled to be recognized as a valid and equal state of being with the same rights and privileges as being nondisabled. Moreover, as we are seeing in the current economy, programs that are considered "special" are often the first to be cut in a budget crisis. Solutions that are grounded in charity also fail since relying on the kindness of strangers tends to keep people stuck with unpredictable results for what are very real needs.

The answer lies in providing services, equipment and access in a reliable and predictable way so disabled people can fully participate and contribute to society the same way the nondisabled can. As long as we continue to allow people to indulge in the magical thinking that keeps using disability as an analogy alive, as long as people think that a disability simulation is a huge step toward understanding what it's like to live with a disability, as long as segregation is seen as the status quo and not a last resort, the very need for the services, equipment and access will continue to be questioned.

It is not having these things that creates true dis-ability-the time suck and energy suck that nondisabled people don't have to suffer through for making special arrangements included. I don't see them having to call ahead on a special line to get tickets, or make special arrangements to go to a doctor because so many offices are still not accessible. The list goes on and on, but the point is clear: we continue to be segregated in many ways that are ingrained in the way we relate to each other and the way we do things that conducting our affairs leaves us dis-abled in a way that has nothing to do with our physical disability. This is on top of not having access, services or equipment we may need.

Having said all this, perhaps someone out there will reconsider comparing not being able to make a good quiche to having a disability. Perhaps not. I can tell you that a friend of mine who is a chef has quadriplegia and he can tell you how to make a great quiche.


Renee said...

I can so relate with this post. My city recently decided to make their buses accessible except their not really. If you have a wheelchair you can maneouveur your way on but if you have a scooter forget it. To ride the bus I have to get off of my scooter and then my partner has to push it up the ramp and push it into position on the bus. Not all buses are accessible and because you never know which ones are running on which route you still might not be able to get to your destination. While putting up with all of this, you get the sighs and the eye rolling because it takes you longer to get on and off the bus than an able bodied person. I am so tired of the lack of access. I am so tired of being made to feel like I have no right to take up space.

Ruth said...

I ran into the same situation taking buses-. The drivers were not trained to work the lifts or even strapped the wheelchair. other passengers were quick to blame me for any delays, which really could have been avoided if the staff is properly trained.the lack of access is at the root of a lot of problems, yet people don't really understand the transportation needs for people with disabilities are often given lip service, but systems lack any way to track accountability.