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The Unity Model of Disability

October 7, 2011

The Unity Model of Disability

For Immediate Release [first published on October 7, 2011]

This unity, or essence, of humanity is not, to my understanding, merely an abstract concept. As we discover and acquire the magnetic attributes of human unity, that unity can be practiced in our daily lives. Decisions will be made consultatively or selflessly. Diversity, on the other hand, is a given. Each of us is an individual soul. We have particular capacities which can be developed throughout our lives. However, diversity by itself, like Autistic identity politics, can easily become a trap. If we focus upon the diversity, and neglect the unitying essence, societies, communities, and hearts may begin to fall apart.

Identity politics is rooted in various Marxist perspectives, especially critical social theory. The focus of many of these critical perspectives is upon conscious raising or conscientization, which is the process of developing an awareness of oppression. The idea originated with Brazilian educator Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy. After recognizing oppression, people join together with others facing similar problems. Together, they struggle for freedom. Therefore, in identity politics, there is some unity, but it is limited in scope, not universal. Inevitably, people will divide into camps of “us” versus “them.”

The online community of Autists and the mental health community have been relatively disconnected. This unfortunate separation has mostly been a result of the neurodiversity movement and its focus upon creating a unique Autistic identity. There are, however, movements related to Autism and to mental health, which, to some extent, run parallel to one another. Descriptions of a number of them are provided on my Brief Outlines of Liberation Movements page. Bridging the gap between these two disability communities, United Against Neurelitism  has developed a Unity Model of Disability.

The Unity Model, while similar to the Empowerment Model, changes the focus from the individual to “humanity.” In both models, however, a medical client  is expected not to be merely a passive recipient of health care services. The attitude, “We know what is best for you,” would be unacceptable. Not only could she choose, or refuse, a particular health care provider. She has the right to reject any  treatment. An example of the Empowerment Model is the recovery movement. It was influenced by the similarly American twelve-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous® and the Civil Rights Movement.

As far as I know, there is no specific  recovery group for Autists. While I differ with many of the assumptions commonly made within the recovery movement, such as the claim that powerlessness  is related to an absence of will power, this popular self-help philosophy can be interesting to study. Essentially, it has medicalized the diversity of human experience, including procrastination. As a caricature of the Empowerment Model, the movement has turned ordinary human struggles into fictional pathologies. Personal life stories then become the novels of recovery from nonscientific diseases.

The Unity Model also borrows from the Social Model of Disability. In the Social Model, the term, “disability” refers to social oppression or discrimination based upon social disadvantages. Disability is not the same as simple human differences. In other words, once the oppression is removed, the disability is eliminated. In Five Kingdoms, disability is also defined as oppression. However, the medical oppression which results from having a number of usually undesirable neurological traits, especially the difficulties with processing empathy, is incorporated, as well.

As a practical application of social justice, the Unity Model is not utopian. Simply, each of us should, working together, advocate for one other, not only for ourselves. The development of unified communities and societies is the heart of the model. Identity politics, or movements supporting the partisan interests of individuals with particular disabilities, are discarded. They are replaced with an awareness of the unity of humanity. If we share, together, the physical attributes, the qualities, of the essence of humanity, we are literally, not just figuratively or metaphorically, related to one another.

For example, our global community might, working in unity, develop better treatments, perhaps even targeted cures, for Autism. With a dear Autistic father, I should always  have known, better than most people, the importance of discovering scientific medical cures. Second, we Autists, as uncommonly odd individuals, are often bullied. Due to a lack of social skills, we also have much higher-than-average unemployment rates. Cooperatively protecting Autists from all forms of oppression and discrimination, is, I feel, crucial. Every human being has the right to be treated with dignity and respect.

Unity, in diversity, is, as I see it, always  preferable over division. In my opinion, the unity of humanity is a reality. We are not cats or dogs or cattle. We are members of the same biological species, homo sapiens, and members of the same subspecies, homo sapiens sapiens. Classifying us by race, ethnicity, and nationality is a human invention. Defining us through our skin color makes no more scientific sense than distinguishing between us based upon hair or eye color. Each of these three traits were evolutionary adaptations. Through natural selection, they developed from variations in climate.

Similarly, separating Autists into types, such as classic Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome  (Asperger’s Disorder in the United States), has been used by some individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome, or “aspies,” to distinguish themselves from other Autists. Thank God, the label, Asperger’s Syndrome, will, most likely, be officially eliminated from the new diagnostic manuals. According to the proposal, Asperger’s Syndrome will become Autism Spectrum Disorder, Level 1. The psychiatric community has recognized that we are all Autists, and that the similarities between us outweigh any differences.

Respectfully submitted,

Mark A. Foster, Ph.D.


United Against Neurelitism


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