Monday, October 20, 2014

Awareness For What?

Danielle Kurtzleben, - October 20, 2014

For the second day in a row I’m recommending a seemingly unrelated article that I think actually does relate to disability.

A lot of what’s said here about the colored-ribbon approach to social campaigning applies to a good portion of what we call “disability awareness”. The term and many of its most widely-used techniques tend to be so vague and content-free that anyone can support them, no matter how they actually treat disabled people or view disability and disability policy. One thought I picked up from the article is that maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s good for the disability community to maintain a “big tent” that allows the maximum number of nominal supporters. Maybe there’s something to be said for disability simulations, inspiration porn, and bland corporate “disability awareness” seminars … at least for some folks.

I think what bothers me about these approaches is that they seem to crowd out other initiatives that are sharper-edged, challenging, and focused on specific change of the kind that makes life better for disabled people, and often meets real resistance. It seems like energy spent on becoming more “aware” of, say, Down Syndrome, tends to draw attention away from efforts to transition and close sheltered workshops, even if the two perspectives often agree on the issue. The general public will almost always prefer a feel-good, non-confrontational appeal with no moral dilemmas or hard choices involved.

I’m not saying that everything about disability always has to be confrontational. Heck, personally, I hate confrontation. But sometimes it can’t be avoided, and if you avoid it, you also avoid the kinds of changes that improve peoples lives, not just their “awareness”.

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