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Tuesday, 26 June 2012

An Unconscious Backlash: The "Blanketing" of Disability

An Unconscious Backlash: The “Blanketing” of Disability

There is a subject I have avoided for a long time in my life, partly as a method of self-denial. It is the idea of disability discourse. Disability discourse is the way we, as a culture of Canadians, discuss and relate to disability. More than how we talk about disabled people, discourse is about our attitudes toward disability, and how those attitude both infringe upon and reinforce basic human freedoms.
Most recently, I have been looking into different writings on disability, trying to scrounge up anything that might give me some insight into how disabilities are internalized and portrayed by the public. I want literature as a starting point for helping me understand what I think I already know, and what confuses me about disabilities. I want some scholarly input on my personal experience: a concrete definition of what disabilities add to the dynamic society, so that I can evaluate where disability attitudes and discourse needs work in our society. In an effort to find this information, I loaned two books from the library, one which claims to discuss disability issues in our North American Culture and the other, which works through some of the struggles that siblings of a disabled person might face.
Instead of finding the clarity I had hoped for, I stumbled on further confusion. The books I had loaned had chapters and chapters of relevant topics--from disability and culture to the different roles thought to be played by disabled people--but upon closer reading I found something that made these sources somewhat unuseful to me: they were on developmental disabilities. Now, maybe you’re thinking that I just had a brain lapse, and magically missed the word “developmental” in front of the word “disability” before signing out both books. But I swear on my mother’s middle name I didn’t; it simply isn’t mentioned in any of the titles of either the books or their chaptered sections.
This sort of omission, while it may seem small to everyone else, makes my stomach turn. Don’t get me wrong, developmentally challenged individuals deserve all the same rights as everyone, I would never ever dispute that, and that is not my issue. My issue is that difference, when it comes in the form of disability, is often lumped together as one, which is in my opinion, perfect breeding grounds for misconception and further marginalization. The result is a “blanketing effect,” in which people with a variety of differing “impairments”, are bunched together under a cover of “disability.”

The Problem of Blanketing Disability

With groups that are marginalized fro reasons outside of disability, such as race, gender, or sexual orientation, blanketing can be a good thing. Look at the Gay Pride Parades-- there are gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered and two-spirited people celebrating their commonality of diverging from mainstream norms when it comes to sexual orientation. It is hard to see such unity as anything but positive, when the goal is to gain acceptance of what are still sometimes deemed “alternative” ways of living. Gender politics and women’s fight for equality also frequently works best when women from all over take a stance against ill treatment, and headway towards a less patriarchal culture is made, at least for a second. There’s no doubt about it, there’s power in numbers when people on the outskirts of society fight for the same cause. But what happens when fighting for that general cause means ignoring or minimizing individual differences? What happens when the individuality and the vividness of a few people’s disability is lost in the mass of the fight, therefore belittling the speciality of their case? This “blanketing” effect is a problem that I believe has held movement towards disabled rights back for many years. Of course, it is not the only issue, but I think it is a major one. When disability is “blanketed,” everyone under the title of disabled becomes what society portrays as the most acceptable and least uncomfortable form of disability--in a sense, disabled people are expected to fit a poster-child version of what society deems ‘disabled’ and grounds for internal and external discrimination are conceived. If disabled people do not fit into the norm of disability--if they need too much, for example-- then they are frowned upon or considered “sick” by society and maybe even alienated by other disabled people.
When society does not see disabilities in their individual light, for all that one person’s disability means and all that it doesn’t, mistakes happen, and arbitrary assumptions fly. It is a minefield for misconception, generalization, and unproductivity. We, as a society, need to stop seeing difference as division and start seeing it as a fact that needs to be understood in moving forward for the betterment of people with disabilities, and a society that is more aware.