Tuesday, July 29, 2014

What Are We Arguing About?

white 3-d stick figure of a person pondering a thought, leaning against a red question mark
When you start reading around the disability blogs, as I did a year and a half or so ago, you get the impression that there are some pretty big arguments going on just under the surface of things. People with opposed views on disability topics rarely clash with each other directly, but there are obviously some high-stakes disagreements and misunderstandings sparking a lot of passion. The problem is that the terms of debate are almost never spelled out, and a newcomer to disability culture can become easily confused. What’s it all about?

I don’t want to fan the flames, but it might be useful once in awhile to try to articulate just what it is we are fighting about … or being passive-aggressive about as the case may be.

For example:

- Is disability a complex web of medical, social, and political factors that all affect how people with specific impairments live? Or, is all the social and political stuff a sort of mirage, distracting us from the pain and hardship of unpleasant medical conditions we should be trying to solve? This argument is at its most concentrated when there is a clash between efforts to eliminate certain disabilities entirely, and a view that doing this would be tantamount to genocide. However, a more moderate but similar argument goes on over where people prefer to direct their attention and money … to making life better for disabled people, or to ridding people, and society, of disabilities?

- What is autism? Is it a baffling and often debilitating brain dysfunction that kids and families suffer greatly from? Or, is it a very particular kind of brain and perception difference where autistic people are essentially ok if they’re allowed to be themselves and use their coping mechanisms, but parents and other “neurotypicals” make them miserable by trying to force them to “act normal”? It’s hard to stake out a middle ground here. It feels like one or the other side is not only wrong, but tragically, horrifically wrong. People disagree over the true nature of a few other specific disabilities, but autism seems to be the most divisive.

- Are most intellectually disabled people quite capable and fully self-aware, and just in need of some extra help and guidance to live satisfying lives? Or, are most of them severely impaired and in need of constant, life-long care and supervision? Most people would say some of both, and lots of in-between. But, one side tends to stress a more minimalist, positive view, while the other side focuses more strongly on needs and what they see as serious, insolvable deficits. The two sides seem to be looking at two different groups of people, while speaking as if to encompass them all.

- Are people with substantial care and assistance needs better served in their own homes with visiting nurses and paid personal assistants? Or, do they get better, safer care in specialized care centers like nursing homes and “assisted living facilities”? This argument is inseparable from the question of which model is more financially sustainable. Not to mention … whose needs are paramount, the person with a disability, family, or care providers?

- Which is more crucial to successful life with a disability … positive thinking and good behavior of the disabled person, or accessibility, accommodation, and respect from society, towards the disabled person? How we answer this question seems to depend a lot on which we believe is easier to change … ourselves or society. The answer to that is not obvious, either way.

- Is disability prejudice the result of ignorance or evil, confusion or hostility? Does it make a difference?

If you have read even just a little bit of this blog, and of other blogs by people with disabilities, you should be able to guess how most of us would answer these questions. Yet, they are questions, and the opposite answers are not so easily dismissed, once they are fairly laid out.

I have no grand point here. I just think it’s important that we remind ourselves of what we believe, and of what others believe who disagree with us.

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