Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

31 4 21 What is disability?

I just came upon this article by a physically disabled woman.  She bucks the trend of "people first language", insisting that she is NOT a "person with a disability":
The main argument in favor of the phrase “person with a disability” is that it’s “person first.” Whaaaat? No one has ever told me that I should describe myself as a “person with gayness” or a “person with womanliness.” I’m gay and I’m a woman -- no need to qualify that I’m a person too. But I have been told that I’m wrong for calling myself “disabled” rather than a “person with a disability.” 
However, unlike "gay" and "woman", she sees "disabled" as relative to society as opposed to an intrinsic aspect of her being:
Most people look at the word “disabled” and assume it means “less able.” It doesn’t. It means “prevented from functioning.” When I turn the wireless connection off on my computer, I get told that the connection has been “disabled”:imageDoes this mean that my wifi has suddenly become less able or broken? Has my wifi acquired a disability? Of course not. It has been prevented from functioning by an external force. In a very similar way to how I’m disabled by bus drivers that just won’t stop if they see me -- a wheelchair user -- waiting at the bus stop.
I find this a fascinating construction of the concept of disability, especially as it relates to my own writing on this subject.  How would Lisa's understanding of her own condition change if instead of creating "accessible environments" society responded by inventing step-climbing wheelchairs?

...and made them widely and cheaply available?

I imagine the result would be similar to nearsightedness, which is no longer truly considered a "disability".

What would it take to do this for people with T21?  To create not only accessible environments via inclusive educational opportunities, but to actually give them the tools with which they can function without disruptive impairment?

Many T21 spokespersons worry about this devaluing people with T21 and their unique perspectives and contributions.  I believe that creating technologies, whether mechanical or medical, which address the specific needs of the people themselves, is the best way of VALUING them.  Was the wheelchair in the video above invented by engineers who devalue people with mobility impairments?


  1. So, basically, you're suggesting that a "disability" is "something we haven't learned to accommodate with technology yet". Fascinating!

    Thanks for posting the info on the Galileo wheelchair technology. I'm pleased -- but not terribly surprised -- to see an Israeli company doing this work.

    1. One of the comments on the article pointed out that it is not entirely accurate that society is "disabling" her. In fact, the existence of wheelchairs and accommodations of any sort are already an improvement over what she'd have to deal with in a "state of nature". Imagine navigating a nature trail with a mobility impairment!

      I see this as a spectrum. At one end is no assistance, and possibly the actual culling off of disabled individuals (either through abortion, euthanasia, or institutionalization); while at the other end is a combination of assistive technologies, systemic accommodations, and societal attitudes which render the impairments a non-issue (e.g. nearsightedness).

      I see our work with T21 to be very important in pushing our society along this spectrum.


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