Sunday, November 10, 2013

Photo Of The Day

Pakistani man just after throwing, balancing on end of a crutch, playing cricket
From the Disability Curious Tumblr blog.

Disability Jocks and Nerds

I’m posting this video of John Hodgman speaking at the 2009 Television and Radio Correspondent’s Dinner for two reasons.

First, it’s funny and surprisingly touching, especially if you still have some affection left for President Obama. Second, it’s the the most clear and insightful discussion I’ve ever seen of “Jocks” and “Nerds”. And that’s important because I am coming to think that some of the divisions within the disability community parallel the Jock / Nerd divide.

While there are dozens of categories and subcategories within the disability community, I think we can see that there are two rough but recognizable approaches to disability as a topic and an experience … approaches that could be described as Jock and Nerd.

Disability “Jocks” are generally optimistic, gregarious, and practical. They mostly project a “can-do” attitude. Even their approach to disability prejudice and injustice is positive; a little education, a few policy changes, some more barrier removal and everything will be fine!

Then there are the Nerds, who are more introspective, a bit dour, less interested in being “just like everyone else”, and more aware of being a distinct subculture. Disability “Nerds” don’t just embrace the “social model” of disability, they disassemble it, reassemble it, and examine it from every angle. They dig into the experience of disability on every level. Like the Jocks, the Nerds experience injustice and want to correct it, but they tend to view ableism as deeply rooted and often intentional, not just a series of misunderstandings and policy tweaks.

I think this can help explain at least some of the “disabled on disabled” conflict we see in the broader disability community. Disability Nerds are uncomfortable with the seemingly relentless positivity of the Disability Jocks. The Disability Jocks get sick of the Disability Nerds’ obsession with terminology and harping on the negative all the time. Nerds think Jocks are too concerned with “acting normal”. Jocks think Nerds are too caught up in abstract theories of identity and justice.

I could keep going with this, examining how social class, income stability, and disability from birth vs. disabled later in life factor in, but I’ll stop for now and ask, is this idea helpful? Am I onto something? Also, are you a Disability Jock or a Disability Nerd?