Last month, I blogged about the idea that there are actually several different "Disability Communities," based on the major different approaches disabled people have to their disabilities. In that post, I proposed 5 of these communities or approaches, something like this list:
Note: I have decided to rename "Bootstrapping" and call it Achievement instead, because "bootstrapping" is a little too dismissive or judgmental. I am also simplifying "Cure Questers" to just plain Cure.
Let's look at these categories in a little more detail:
Activism - Examples:
◎ Personal participation in activism
◎ Problems of disability are mainly social and structural, and therefore correctable
◎ Activism is a valuable and important way of addressing disability issues
◎ Disability activism is urgent, exciting, empowering
◎ Hope for better future through better disability policies & services
Culture - Examples:
◎ Regularly use and/or produce disability-oriented media
◎ Enjoy discussing & exploring disability as a social identity
◎ Disability is a culture, a personal and collective social identity
◎ Disability identity is a source of personal & collective pride
◎ Hope for better future by combating ableism and promoting disability pride
Achievement - Examples:
◎ Focus on self-improvement, education, training
◎ Focus on getting a good job
◎ Pursuit of maximum achievable financial independence
◎ Value maximum achievable practical independence, self-determination
◎ Hope for better future by personal achievement and proving disabled peoples' capability
Assimilation - Examples:
◎ Goal of achieving mainstream social acceptance
◎ Social acceptance is signaled by others ignoring or looking past disability
◎ The ideal is a "normal life" in which disability is insignificant
◎ Disability is an inconvenience, a challenge, an obstacle ... not really an identity
◎ Hope for better future by making non-disabled feel at ease with disabled people
Cure - Examples:
◎ Goal of curing or substantially reducing your disability
◎ Disability is mainly a personal health and fitness issue
◎ Activism focused on medical treatment or prevention of specific disabilities
◎ Fundamentally dissatisfied with having disabilities
◎ Hope for better future by preventing disabilities
The original post was just table setting for a bigger point, which is that I believe most disabled people are unique blends of these approaches. Mapping out how each of us invests in these approaches can reveal a lot about what kinds of disabled people we are. At the same time, I think it can also help make sense of the frequently huge differences and divisions in the disability community as a whole.
I'll start with myself.
I wanted to make some kind of graph or chart to illustrate where my own disability thinking sits among these different approaches to disability. So, I gave myself 10 "points" to distribute among the five approaches ... the more heavily invested I believe that I am in each category, the more points I allocate to it. Here is what I came up with:
Activism: 4 - My main interest is in activism, and my overall view of disability is that the key to better life for disabled people is better disability policy. Also, I tend to like disability activists, and discussing and campaigning for disability issues is stimulating and exciting to me.
Culture: 3 - I am also interested in, and a small producer of disability culture. I absolutely believe that disability is an identity and that there is a real disability culture. However, this interest is still rather new to me, and I still occasionally find myself feeling skeptical of the importance some of my friends and colleagues attach to issues of identity, language, and representation.
Achievement: 2 - I care about my own success, not just as a person, but as a disabled person who can be an example to others. At the same time, the brand of disability activism that centers on conventional markers of success leaves me cold. In the end, I don't really think that a few splashy individual triumphs does much to change the social status of disabled people in general.
Assimilation: 1 - I care a great deal about having freedom, access, and formal integration, but I'm not that interested in whether I am fully assimilated and viewed as "just another guy" by non-disabled people. This is partly because I don't think that totally blending in is really possible for me, and partly because I've always been a bit of a loner, happy to be set a little apart from the crowd, whether or not it's because of my disability.
Cure: 0 - There is no medically or practically meaningful cure or therapy imaginable for my particular disabilities, which is probably why I have never been the least bit interested in such a thing. Meanwhile, there are things that can and should be done in society, things we already know how to do, that would make life better for disabled people.