Another reason why there are different disability cultures is a fundamental difference in how we see our disabilities.
Some of us see our disability as a disease. Others of us see it as something like an identity.
Put another way:
Some of us fight our disabilities like others fight cancer, or leukemia.
Others of us incorporate or add our disabilities to our personalities, like an ethnicity, or a subculture, like being a Hipster or a Geek.
This is almost the same thing as the Medical Model vs. the Social Model, but not quite. The Medical and Social Models of disability are attempts to define and locate the problems with disability. What I’m talking about his how disabled people live day to day with disabilities, and how they relate to them … as an enemy, or as part of our personalities.
Even though I usually approach disability as an integrated part of myself, I often have to deal with it as I would deal with a serious “normal people illness”. No matter how well I have integrated my disability into my life, and adapted to it, and no matter how well my community accepts and accommodates it, sometimes, it just plain hurts. Sometimes, it absolutely interferes with my plans, and there is nothing I can do about it. It’s times like these I do wish I could fix it … or at least shave off some of my disability’s sharper corners.
At the same time, it really does break my heart to see other disabled people treat their impairments like diseases. I don’t have a problem with organized efforts to improve treatment and, with some ethical reservations, prevention. But I hate to see what it does to disabled individuals, especially children and youth. Most disabilities are simply not aptly compared to diseases. They aren’t invaders. Most of them don’t kill you. And in most cases, you don’t “beat” disabilities, you adapt, which calls for a very different attitude and approach.
Maybe this isn’t such a big deal. Maybe the language of fighting disease is just more familiar to people, so it’s a handy metaphor misapplied to disability for want of an alternative. When people with disabilities, and their supporters, talk about “overcoming” or “beating” their disabilities, maybe they really mean adapting, succeeding, or finding happiness. But I think language shapes our thinking, as well as the other way around.
That’s why I think it makes a difference how we talk about our disabilities. It’s why how we talk about our disabilities does tend to sort us into distinctly different disability cultures.