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A Social Model of Disability

January 6, 2008

The social model of disability can be constructed in various ways. There are some people who reject the very notion of being differently abled and, instead, focus on being differently enabled.

I think it makes more sense to develop the social model of disability so that these two concepts are seen in dialectical tension with one another. A person is differently abled if her or his abilities are expressed differently from the typically abled. A person is differently enabled if her or his abilities are not receiving the same level of social support as is available to the typically enabled.

The only way I can think of that the medical and social models of disability would be mutually exclusive is if a person was treated against her will.

Any imagined power possessed by disabled persons is largely abstract and has little relevance to the day-to-day struggles which are experienced.

Any imagined power possessed by disabled persons is largely abstract and has little relevance to the day-to-day struggles which are experienced.

As a sociologist, I am not in the ranking game. I do not place oppressions on a top-10 chart. IMO, each category of oppression, and each experience of oppression, needs to be examined uniquely. Only then can we look for similarities with other categories and experiences.

Well, I wonder where that power was hiding when I was being drugged up with antipsychotics and receiving electroconvulsive treatments.

I support the social model of disability – first and foremost because it was the conclusion I reached as a teenager, long before I ever heard of it. However, second to that, I see it supported inductively from the broad number of cases I have come across (reading, interviewing, directly observing, etc.).

I am a Foucaultian (more precisely, a critical poststructuralist), and the social model of disability is largely indebted to his work on the “government of disability.”

As I have said before, I prefer speaking of a dialectic between being differently abled and differently enabled. However, my ideas are still rooted in the social model of disability.

The question is, What do others have? One of those “haves” is an intangible, social power. That is why I find it useful to develop a dialectic of being differently abled and being differently enabled (with the emphasis on the second). IMO, this approach is consistent with the social model of disability. By the way, the social model of disability is at the basis of the “anti-cure” autism rights movement:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_model_of_disability

Social context has different expressions depending on the disability. For me, as a child, it meant that, because I could not be accommodated as an Asperger’s autistic (even though I was diagnosed with schizophrenia), they put me on antipsychotic drugs and sent me to a psychiatric hospital to receive electroconvulsive therapy.

I noticed that there seems to be a misunderstanding of how the term “disability” is used by disability advocates. For instance, I have seen people argue against the idea of being cured and, in the same posting, say that they are not disabled.

The concept of not wanting to be cured comes from the social model of disability. The autism rights movement is itself strongly rooted in the social model of disability.

This is from Wikipedia. It places anti-curism firmly in the social model of disability:

The social model of disability implies that attempts to change, ‘fix’ or ‘cure’ individuals, especially when against the wishes of the patient, can be discriminatory and prejudiced. It is often contended that this attitude, often seen as stemming from a medical model and a subjective value system, can harm the self-esteem and social inclusion of those constantly subjected to it (e.g. being told they are not as good or valuable, in some overall and core sense, as others).

Some communities have actively resisted ‘treatments’, often alongside defending a unique culture or set of abilities. Some examples include: deaf parents arguing against cochlear implants for deaf infants who cannot consent to them, and valuing sign language even if most do not ‘speak’ it; people diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder arguing against efforts to change them to be more like others, arguing instead for acceptance of neurodiversity and accommodation to different needs and goals; people diagnosed with a mental disorder arguing that they are just different, don’t necessarily conform, or have a psychosocial disability ultimately caused by discrimination or exclusion by society.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_model_of_disability

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