What is (dis)ability about?
- by Bri -
Once upon a time...I took a course in Bioethics. This was not my first course in ethics. In fact, it wasn't even my second. Two things you should know about me; I'm stubborn and loud about justice. My first ethics course ended when my professor said I needed to "stop arguing" in class. I firmly believe in equity for EVERYONE. END STOP. My second ethics course, the professor kicked me out for debating his conservative teaching standpoint. I even lost a job teaching at a university when they gave us a list of "approved" teaching topics: no texts "glorifying homesexuality", nothing that makes *specific religion* look bad, no discussion about "non-existent" racism or sexism.
So I planned my course around DOING THE EXACT OPPOSITE. I picked books that ONLY addressed accurate LGBTQA+ viewpoints, questioned the hell out of specific religions, and forced the students to talk about racism and sexism in our society. And then I was "let go" the next semester because they "didn't need my divisive opinions" ruining the education of their students. I can't say I was particularly upset about it.
And then I took my BioEthics course. The professor was encouraging and supportive, my classmates brilliant and engaged, and I got to do what I love: writing really long essays about real-life ethical issues. But of all the topics we covered, I realized that disability and chronic illness, in life as well as in the classroom, was significantly under-discussed. As we move toward a "Critical Race Theory" approach in Academia, I realized that we were still using language from Hitler's eugenics ideology from the 1940s as a way to talk about disability as it intersects with race. I saw this as a huge problem and my hyper-ethical brain needed to fix it.
But the problem is more widespread that just how disability and race interact as identities. Being "disabled" meant that my value as a human being was being judged on my ability to make an income. Think about it: The very premise of our society (Disabled lives: Who cares?) is based upon the idea that a human’s value (especially in a capitalist society) boils down to being able to produce income and wealth, this being the sole deciding factor in whether a human has any societal worth. The NORM is someone who can make income. The assumption is that disable people aren’t really people because they ‘probably’ can’t make money: they can’t have value in a capitalist society. This is soooooo deeply flawed, and yet so brutally ingrained into every aspect of our society.
I had a physical NEEED to start rewriting this narrative. I am disabled. But I live a wonderful life, I am able to work in a field I love, I have friends and family and my wonderful little farm of critters. I have really bad days where I can't move well and every joint feels like it's been roughed up with a metal file. BUT I SHOULDN'T HAVE MY ENTIRE LIFE PARED DOWN AND JUDGED BY ONE IDENTITY: I am disabled.
And I say, "SO FUCKING WHAT?" Statistics say that EVERYONE at some point in their life, will experience some form of disability. Why do we pretend that "ableness" is our normal state? Why do we see disability as character flaw? Why is our value to society based only on if we can make money for the system?
I want to change our language. I want "ablism" to be the issue addressed, not "those disabled people." I want to provide resources to help people understand that disabilities AREN'T the problem: the idea that disabled peeps have no value IS THE PROBLEM. I want to help people who are struggling with being disabled in an ableist society. I want to give them tools to help themselves and the people around them learn to dis-able the inherent ablism that harms all of us.
That's what this is all about. Disabling ableism, one post at a time. So we can all live better lives.
Grenon, I., & Merrick, J. (2014). Intellectual and developmental disabilities: eugenics. Frontiers in public health, 2, 201. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2014.00201
Nussbaum, Martha C. (2001, Jan 11). Disabled lives: Who cares?. The New York Review of Books. https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2001/01/11/disabled-lives-who-cares/