On the question of disability… (again)

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I am currently taking my last formal class toward my PhD in Disability Studies. Yahoooo for milestones! The class is called Disability Oppression and Resistance. In class last week, my professor made an argument that clarified the question of disability as it relates to diabetes (though he wasn’t applying his argument directly to this).

He argued, “You don’t have to know you are disabled to be disabled, if society treats you as disabled then you are! Society chooses.” In other words, what determines your qualification as disabled does not depend on your willingness to identify, nor does it depend on the physical impairment you may have. Rather, it depends on how society treats you.

In the context of diabetes, then, I’m considering, how does society treat us? Based on my lived experience, constantly hearing things like “I could never do that,” and “you should not eat that, right?” leads me toward the conclusion that we are treated like we are different. And moreover, we are treated like we are different in the bad kind of way. And this reflection is not just individual. There are systemic ways we are treated differently. For example, I have over 2k in medical bills I’m slowly paying off because my body doesn’t function typically, because it needs more. We’re made to pay outrageous prices for medications without which we will literally die. This is oppressive. I’d love to take that 2 grand and travel to Europe. I have able-bodied friends doing that right now.

Based on my studies and deep dive into disability identity theories – reading about the marginalization and degradation of minority identity- leads me toward the conclusion that society treats us as Others (the capital O indicates a marginalized other). But, from what I’ve seen, our collective resists that. It’s complicated.

In the diabetes world, we reproduce a relatively sticky social contradiction. We fight for our right to accommodation at school and at work. We simultaneously fight to not be seen as limited by the condition. We want the benefits of association without the stigma we believe is attached to it. Can we have both? Or is this contradiction holding us back?

As I continue to develop my dissertation project, I’m curious about what we resist, how we resist it, and what we are trying to accomplish. What are we hoping for by spreading awareness messages? If we are fighting against being associated with the disability identity, what do we hope will come from others thinking we aren’t? If we are fighting against the diabetes stereotype, where do we direct our messages? What changes are we hoping to see?

If there are gatekeepers, who are they, where are they, and how do we get to them? When we lodge counter-arguments to the social construction of diabetes as the lazy person’s disease, who do we send them to?

I want to know so much more about the oppression we face and what we do to resist it. What do you think about this? What do you resist? What engages your cyberactivism? Where do you think we are headed from here if we continue to resist the ways we have been?

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3 thoughts on “On the question of disability… (again)

  1. Rick Phillips says:

    Heather, I disagree with the professor. In the US and for a large part of the world, disability is defined by governmental budgets. Those budgets are defined by the degree of taxes that the population will sustain. This ultimately is decided by economic pressure, prior use of taxes, and priorities.

    What makes a PWD different than say a person with one leg? Political power? yes, Number? yes, Total Cost? of course, but mostly it is determined by one thing, it is the degree that the economic factors tax the overall system plus culture.

    So yes the professor is correct, it is what society says it is, but the reason it says yes or now is so multifaceted that econometric models woudl have to be built to discern even a small portion of the total.

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  2. Heather Gabel says:

    Hi Rick! You’re absolutely right!! My professor argues that capitalism, the commodification of labor and goods, and governmental law are three of the biggest factors influencing the condition of disability! For me, the question is what is society? If we assume society or ‘the social’ is a collection of economic structures, cultural attitudes and norms, language and communications, and public and private institutions, then his argument stands as is and includes your argument within it. I think you two would have a fabulous dialogue. You both are wise people with a ton of advocacy experience! His book is called Nothing About Us Without Us. If you haven’t read it, take a gander. It’d be right up your alley!

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  3. Rick Phillips says:

    Oh thanks Heather, I am looking for a good read, I will put it on my amazon list. My favorite book of all time (since I am a politician at heart) is Rules for Radicals. I do not know what your dissertation will be about, but I got a citation out of it for my dissertation about teacher hiring. Unfortunately my advisor scrapped my citation. Boo Hiss. LOL

    Good Luck Heather.

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