Monday 17 July 2017

My disability isn't only a social construct

I keep on coming across comments like the following:
Disability is a social construct. It exists due to the society in which the person lives and not because of the impairment someone might have.
Such statements are kindly meant and are true to a point; but they greatly overstate their case and, in doing so, make me feel like a freak.  Yes, society can be structured in such a way that certain impairments cease to matter.  But in my case, no matter how the society around me was structured, my disabilities would exclude me from most of it.  By denying that reality, this statement about inclusion leaves me feeling seriously excluded.  If someone asserts my disability only exists because society hasn't accommodated it, yet I can think of no accommodations that could overcome my disability, what does that say?  That my disability is just in my own head and I need to get over myself?  Or that, even in the world of disability rights, no one has realised that people like me even exist?

The main things that keep me away from mainstream life are my lack of stamina and my ridiculous sensitivity to sensory stimulation of all kinds.  Both of these can by modulated a bit by adaptations.  For example, I can manage my low stamina a little by using a wheelchair instead of walking - and that only works if society accommodates my wheelchair by installing ramps and lifts etc.  And I can enjoy an activity for longer if I can find a quiet place nearby to lie down for a while before re-joining it: again, there are ways venues can make that easier or harder to manage.  But neither of those change the fact that I can't enjoy activities like other people can.  I can only attend things for short bursts and, if they're too sensorily overwhelming (like the Pasifika Festival would be, for example) the amount of time I could tolerate them is so short that it's not worth going in the first place.  Thats not because society is 'disabling' me by not accommodating my impairments well; it's be because my impairments are inherently disabling and there's nothing anyone can do about that.

I'll admit my situation is extreme.  With many disabilities, if the community put in more of an effort they really would largely disappear.  A healthy paraplegic could do most of what a healthy able-bodied person could do, were we to have wheelchair-suitable doors/lifts/ramps/hoists in all public and private spaces.  I doubt that healthy paraplegic would ever be able to experience many of the things I used to experience tramping, though.  Similarly, if you captioned all TV programmes, made sure everyone was fluent in sign language and did live-interpretation into sign language at every public event, people who are deaf would be vastly more included than they are now.  But they still wouldn't be able to get the same enjoyment I used to from playing the violin.

I do agree that disability is significantly a social construct (i.e. something that arises from the way society doesn't accommodate it), but to say that's all it is just isn't true.  For anyone, with any disability, it isn't completely true.  And for people like me, where the disability really is largely 'organic' rather than societal, to make such a claim is exclusionary and painful.

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