DHD 401- Fall 2010
Ryan Parrey; Vandana Chaudhry
Response Paper #6
Constructing Disability Identity and the Disability Experience
It seems to be a consistent theme from British academic journalists to make use of Foucauldian and Marxist ideologies as a platform from which constructs of disability identity, experience, community, or culture might employ as they manifest. Interestingly, in “Negotiating Psycho-emotional Dimensions of Disability and their Influence on Identity Constructions” Donna Reeve describes disability identity as “fluid” because “it better represents the diversity of the disability experiences of disabled people than an essentialist disability identity” (493). This observation is contrary actually to what Reeve has to say about the use of Foucault in the disability dialectic calling its use scarce. Another relevant theme present in this week and last week’s readings are that different perceptions of the social model of disability, which I find interesting to have been termed in the UK in the 1980s, are the locus of the proverbial disability debates.
Reeve goes on to reference Carol Thomas’ proposition of “an extended social relational understanding of disability” that includes “structural and psycho-emotional dimensions of disability.” She clarifies how psycho-emotional dimensions of disability are a “form of disablism [that] undermines the emotional well-being of disable people and can be just as disabling as structural barriers.” (493)
Structural barriers are easily recognizable— sidewalks without curbs, for example— unlike psycho-emotional dimensions of disability. Despite all of the interesting material for these final weeks, a point in time which we (as students in this course) should have formed at least a skeletal concepts of identity, community, and culture as related to disability, I am most fascinated with the concept of psycho-emotional dimensions of disability undermining the emotional status of individuals with disabilities and how they can be just as disabling as physical, environmental, tangible, thus structural barriers. In the same theoretical space in which the dissimilarities often initially perceived between cognitive disabilities and physical disabilities lies must also be the parallel on which the demarcation between how individuals with physical disabilities interact with structural barriers and how this both esoteric but field specific term of psycho-emotional dimensions of disability, limited in the context of this paper to cognitive or neurological disabilities.
The example I shall employ to explore this relationship involves elevators. Elevators are physical mechanisms that are solutions to the structural barrier of individuals in wheelchairs, for example, to traverse levels in buildings. On the contrary, a psycho-emotional dimension of disability that a person with a cognitive disorder might experience could include increased anxiety when in elevators with other people: anxiety resultant from sharing space, albeit typically small, with others. An elevator can be both a solution and, in the psycho-emotional realm, a problem. It is both part of a solution to the social model of disability, to which the structural barrier solution is relevant, and, in the given example, a problem for the individual with the cognitive disability. Please note that, in order to reduce the variables in the comparison, this example does not consider the use of stairs as an alternative option at this time because the student with the cognitive disability may be being escorted to a study/exam room, a requirement of being thusly accommodated.
As such I believe that molding a disability culture composed of allies and individuals with varied disability identities, as members of the disability community, we must also consider how solutions and accommodations can sometimes also create the need for further solutions and be prepared to address them in a comprehensive context of the universe of disability experience. Perhaps Reeve was correct in her choice to explore how Foucault’s ideologies of power, knowledge, and subjectivity and how, as a disability community, seek solutions for the effects of these different constructs’ relationships on how an individual with an impairment may be impacted. In order to manifest comprehensive solutions to integrate the disability experience into mainstream experience, a variety of dimensions must be considered because of the abstract nature of the psycho-emotional dimensional response, for example.