Friday, June 20, 2008

Disability Blogosphere

Like I mentioned in my last post, I'm exploring the “blogosphere” to see what's going on in the lives of people with disabilities (or PWDs as some say) and the PWD communities.In the next few posts I'd like to reference some various sites that offer some insider views into this community. But first let me share with you my overall reaction to what I've found while surfing.

We don't live in a black and white world where there is a fine line between disabled and non-disabled (or “normies” as some bloggers identify them) experiences. The lives of all people are extremely deep, complex, and colorful. Nevertheless, I've noticed at least two different approaches to perceiving/representing/discussing disability and the people with them.

One perspective works from the assumption that PWDs lives are successful and fulfilling to the extent they are integrated with mainstream society and follow its standards of success. The Paralympics is a perfect example of this: Participants compete in the same sports played by non-disabled athletes, with adjustments to rules and some equipment to accommodate the particular disability. Success, or winning, is measured much in the same way that “regular” athletic events are measured. Who is the fastest? Who can score the most baskets/goals/points? The celebration is in overcoming the barriers presented by disabilities and human limitations in general. PWDs with this perspective are not necessarily ignoring their physical challenges, but they do work to live their lives positively and this results in notable achievements that break mental and physical limitations assumed for them. From the perspective of a “normie,” interaction with a PWD with this viewpoint is very smooth and conflict-free, because the disability is downplayed. We (the “normies”) get that happy feeling of, "Hey, he/she is not that different from me...we have a lot in common." This assumes, of course, that normies represent the normal standard of looks, speech, thinking, actions, etc.

The second approach to representing disability contrasts starkly with the one described above. The traditional ways of discussing disability with political correctness are thrown out the window and writing can be any combination of blunt, bitter, sarcastic, angry and in some cases, quite funny. For the normies who prefer interactions like the one finishing off the last paragraph, such an attitude may be quite off-putting and offensive. Nevertheless, this approach allows for straight talk about disabilities from the uncensored, "unnormalized" perspective of PWDs. To get a quick idea of what I'm talking about, look at Ouch!, which demonstrates this approach to the "t."

While exploring the two approaches a few questions come to mind and I'd just love to hear your thoughts on them. Additionally, they serve as a mental warm-up that can inform you as we continue this discussion in upcoming posts.

  • How is 'normal' defined (in western society we'll say)? What groups determine it and who or what socio-political factors maintain that definition?
  • How is disability defined? Is there/should there be a hierarchy of disability? In other words, is someone's worth and ability determined by how closely their condition matches a non-disabled person?
  • How is success determined? Is it determined by PWDs or non-PWDs? And is one more valid than the other?
  • Is there ever a time when one can be not disabled enough?
  • In many ways, PWDs are adjusting their identities and lifestyles to fit with mainstream society. To what extent should non-PWDs consider and work to adapt to the identities and lifestyles of PWDs?


EkC said...

I think you raise a lot of interesting questions here. In terms of how "normal" and "disability" are defined, I think a lot of this is based on stereotypes and people *think* to be the societal norms. I think a lot of people don't realize how many varying disabilities there are out there, or even the concept that everyone, PWD and AB, are, despite their differences, just trying to live and enjoy their lives to the fullest. Just a few thoughts.

I actually work for another disability website, I don't know if you've heard of it - Disaboom. It's fairly new, but I'd be interested to know what you think of our community's approach.

Great post; I look forward to reading more!

Matt --attorney, researcher, and (now) blogger said...

ekc, Disaboom is a great site. n2thebreach, I think the questions you raise are some of the most important in the disability community and Disaboom would be a good place to engage people in those conversations.

I also wanted to give you my own definition of political correctness--good manners and respect for others.