Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Contradiction

In response to my post Not Just About Barriers, The Goldfish wrote a comment pointing out a contradiction. I was going to write a response below it, but because the comment did such a good job of addressing what has been bothering me about the social model of disability, I decided to copy most of it into a new post for more discussion:


Your argument is a little contradictory; the social model talks about all the social experiences which are different for some of us because of some bodily, neurological, cognitive, psychological or other difference. This has nothing to do with a diagnosis, or a particular type of barrier, so long as it is societal in nature.

In the same way, being white or a person of colour is not to do with a specific skin tone or set of genes, but to do with the way that other people treat you; if you can pass for white, then you have one experience, if you are regarded as being "racially" other, you have another sort of experience.

Therefore, according to the social model, you are disabled the minute that other people regard you as being disabled for whatever reason that might be.



The Goldfish is quite right that there is a contradiction here, and this is how I see it: If we are disabled because other people think so, then disability really isn’t so much about barriers in social structure as it is about attitudes. And if it’s about attitudes, then we’re right back to the medical model of disability because it’s the medical profession (for the most part) that is responsible for creating society’s attitudes about who has a disability.

Will someone please explain to me how there is any significant difference between the following two statements?

(1) You are disabled because you have been diagnosed with a medically defined condition;
(2) You are disabled because society thinks that everyone in your diagnostic category is disabled.

This looks to me like it’s almost entirely a semantic difference; in either case, the end result is the same—medical professionals have the ultimate authority to sort people into “disabled” and “normal” categories.


I tend to view disability more from a political perspective—that is, as an alliance among people who are affected by disability prejudice, regardless of whether they face complex barriers in social structure or just plain old-fashioned bigotry. As The Goldfish’s comment suggests, such a political alliance can be compared to joint efforts by racial minorities to challenge discrimination based on race. It’s not a distinct group in itself, but a means for bringing about political change. Such cooperative advocacy can be a very effective means of dealing with specific discriminatory situations, such as the recent Ransom Notes ads; but I don’t think it can be fully effective in putting an end to disability prejudice without also challenging the authority of medical professionals to define people as disabled.

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9 Comments:

  • One of the points that The Goldfish made in the comment that I think is important is that because pathological problems are so often seen as something that someone could and should do something about(even though no one knows how they got to the point of handling things in that manner and has no one has the right to judge this), when it is described as instead having a biological basis, someone is excused which often leads to pity and a condesending tone. One might hope that this also leads some assistance after helpers know what equitment someone has to work with.(I'd like to see more of that).

    Being misunderstood and devalued because of assuptions CAN be as disabling as being seen as poisened, diseased, or genetically defective. Difference is ours to inform others about.

    At this point the diagnostitions, doctors, therepists, etc. have a responsibility to answer to us all. If they really intended to diagnose people for the sake of better health care, better accomidations for sensory issues, more specific individual teaching methods for autistics, then where is all that?

    Why is research continuing for what has been shown to be false, biased, harmful, and even deadly. Why are educational facilities, therepy providers and "awareness campaigns" all funding and supporting in other ways, the organizations that openly advertise their agenda of eugenics.

    The autistic traits that people feel uncomfortable around were taught to people long before alot of the diagnosis started but why are they making it so much worse by working so hard at fighting autistic people and making the autistic label so terrible.

    They have not even begun to use the autism label for anything beneficial.

    Getting together (as I think I hear you saying ABFH) and changing what the labels of autism and disability means, needs to be everyones objective. Describing autism as a disablity or just working toward providing more people with accomidations for whatever individual things any of us need that are sublabels of sublabels of sublabels that alow us to thrive in our environment, has to be the main goal.

    Attepting to assign extra value to a characteristic or set of characteristics, for any other reason than promoting equality, just confuses the issue as much as devaluing it does.

    By Blogger Ed, at 1:56 PM  

  • I have two comments.

    First,

    ...In the same way, being white or a person of colour is not to do with a specific skin tone or set of genes, but to do with the way that other people treat you; if you can pass for white, then you have one experience, if you are regarded as being "racially" other, you have another sort of experience. ...

    I agree with this as far as it goes, but I feel that there is more than just the reaction of other people that make the experience. To extend the analogy made by Goldfish, a person of color that can "pass for white" has a different experience than a white person does when comments that might or might not be racially motivated are made. When a white person refers to a third person (who is a person of color) as lazy, another white person is more likely to accept that statement at face value, while a person of color that passes for white hearing that statement is more likely to process that statement thru a filter first that asks whether a bigoted generalization is being made before accepting the statement. Identification with the group (whether that group is people of color, autistic, or whatever) also affects our experience, regardless of the reaction of those around us.

    A second point I'd like to make is that I feel you are ascribing far too much power to doctors. While they do have some power, for the most part I feel that most doctors end up reflecting the attitudes of the society that they are in.

    During Germany in WWII, many doctors bought into the dehumanization of Jews and others, and participated in some horrific experiments. When society regarded homosexuality as a disease, doctors listed it as such. When the majority of society later considered it as a variation of the human condition, they de-listed it.

    Doctors have some power to either include or not include individuals under a certain category, and those labels have societal implications, in terms of educational support, therapies, etc. But I don't see doctors as leading this, but mostly following what is already present in society.

    Joe

    By Blogger Club 166, at 2:28 PM  

  • The difference is that if you are disabled by autism, deafness, an illness or whatever else, you will always be disabled.

    If you are disabled by society, you don't need to be. We can change that so that eventually you will no longer be disabled without somehow "curing" your autism. Attitudes can change; our bodies and brains are unlikely to.

    Medical professionals only cause a problem here if they apply value judgments to the facts. I realise that one could argue that some diagnoses are in themselves value judgments but social disability is much much bigger than that.

    A person may have no diagnosis and still be disabled; I've known older people on the autistic spectrum who received grim treatment because of their symptoms whilst undiagnosed, the label coming as a great liberator when it finally arrived. It made them less disabled because they could change their own attitudes and the attitudes of family and friends to this part of them which had previously been a shameful mystery.

    However, I realise that with autism and in particular the treatment of children with autism, some of the biggest attitudinal barriers come straight from medical professions. But I would personally regard these as social issues, because they've got little to do with medical fact (what has quality of life got to do with scientific fact?).

    Once again, hope that makes sense. :-)

    By Blogger The Goldfish, at 3:22 PM  

  • Sure, this all makes sense....NOT! There is no way I'm the only one who sees the contradictions in this thread. The title of the post is the only thing I'm not confused about.:)

    The Goldfish,
    Help me understand please.
    Years ago there was a system of bussing school kids that was supposed to intergrate black and white kids. There were black kids that didn't meet the scholastic standards and that was used as an excuse to define them as inferior.

    They had alot of practical skills based on the environment they were in before the bussing that the white kids could have benefited from learning but that wasn't recognised.

    Black kids weren't being taught in a way that was practical to who they were or how they learned, and this type of scholastic environment was very foreign to them.

    The burden of conforming was placed on them instead of society when it should have been the other way around.

    No matter what society has misinterpreted that has influenced how a person has been mistreated, the responsibility must begin with educating society in order for real change to happen.

    By doing this the people who have been otherwise misjudged and mistreated are able to see both how people really want them to be responsible and what the benefits of responsibility are.

    The thing is though, that U.S. society, and especially the medical/psychiatric establishment (weather influencing society or having been influenced by it) have shown that they would pay any price (and it has been an extremely high price) to have cognitive differences and/or what they consider cognitive inferiority to be excluded from opportunities.

    In this particular way, societal standards show that people are more comfortable with physical differences or impairments than mental ones. Physical impairments, mainly after wars, were the beginnings if how disability in the U.S. is mainly still acknowledged today.

    Also, how we change a diagnosis of one thing that has been seen as a mental impairment has few lasting benefits when the label changes to another one of the same type. However we may distinguish between them, most people will not.

    What am I missing or what do I not understand?

    By Blogger Ed, at 7:26 PM  

  • Club 166: You're quite right that group identification affects a person's social experience. As for the medical profession, I'm not suggesting that all doctors are evil or that they are intentionally creating hatred of autistics or of anyone else; but it is an unfortunate fact that a medical label can give apparent legitimacy to biased social attitudes, magnifying them tremendously. Before the concept of the autism spectrum was created, there was an existing prejudice against "nerds" and "weirdos," some of whom faced bullying in schools and other places. Still, we never saw groups with names like Nerds Speak funding eugenics research to bring about a nerd-free world, and our politicians weren't jumping on the bandwagon to pass a Combating Nerds Act. Without the medical label, that would have been unthinkable.

    The Goldfish: I understand that in theory there's a distinction between being permanently disabled by a medical condition and being temporarily disabled by society's attitudes, but I think the majority of people tend to view disabilities as non-permanent while still thinking of them as unfortunate medical ailments. Specifically, because disabilities are seen as medical conditions, many people have the attitude that they can be "fixed" if society just puts more money into research for cures and treatments (or by way of alternative medicine's latest miracle cures). In contrast, there's a strong tendency to look upon the existing social environment as permanent or nearly so, and changing the structure of society is likely to be dismissed as a utopian daydream. So I don't see a permanent/temporary distinction as very helpful.

    Ed: I agree that doctors, because of their position of power in society, have a moral responsibility to carefully consider the social consequences of their acts; and all too often, in today's world, they are not living up to that responsibility.

    By Blogger abfh, at 9:58 AM  

  • abfh,

    I totally agree with your last comments. I do think that sometimes people think that certain attitudes are originating from the medical profession, rather than medicine acting as a magnifier of an already existing societal ill. This does not let doctors off the hook. But I think that to fight wrong ideas you need to understand the origin of such ideas.

    Doctors are given a certain amount of power by society, and are supposed to use that power wisely. Medical boards, professional societies, and ethics committees serve as the usual checks on that power. These three combined usually serve to correct abuses of that power, but also usually take longer than one would like.

    Another check that is less often used is the one that is starting to be used by autistics. By going outside the usual process for controlling what doctors do and challenging society's basic assumptions (that autism is a abberation that needs to be eliminated by doctors and research), autistics may be able to speed this process along. Advocating for the civil rights of autistics may be (IMO) the best and fastest way to correct some of the abuses that happen all the time.

    I agree that doctors, because of their position of power in society, have a moral responsibility to carefully consider the social consequences of their acts; and all too often, in today's world, they are not living up to that responsibility.

    I couldn't have said that better myself.

    Joe

    By Blogger Club 166, at 8:55 AM  

  • Club 166,
    I think what you said was very good and very important. I think it helps to bridge a gap that complaining does nothing more than widen.

    Dotors seem demanded to perform beyond human standards and are blamed when they don't perform miricles.

    Your posts that I have seen, have always seemed very reasonable and I appreciate you pointing out about doctors things that I didn't know. I like you. :)

    Most people who are in the most urgent need of help won't be fighting for any kinds of rights. Instead they will rebel. This is a real problem.

    I feel that most people that hurt others have real reasons for being who they are. It doesn't excuse them but their problems are real. I may act the same way as anyone given the same situation as them.

    Most people in my situation don't see any need for protest or fighting for anything. We react because we don't know any way that really will work for us so that we can just survive.

    Many people really are too weak to express themself or unable to do so for many reasons. We just want to live long enough to express to the rest of society who we are and what we have to offer. Many of us won't reach that goal.

    By Blogger Ed, at 12:11 PM  

  • Thanks, Ed.

    I always get a lot out of reading your posts, too. Keep them coming.

    Joe

    By Blogger Club 166, at 12:09 AM  

  • "I understand that in theory there's a distinction between being permanently disabled by a medical condition and being temporarily disabled by society's attitudes, but I think the majority of people tend to view disabilities as non-permanent while still thinking of them as unfortunate medical ailments. Specifically, because disabilities are seen as medical conditions, many people have the attitude that they can be "fixed" if society just puts more money into research for cures and treatments (or by way of alternative medicine's latest miracle cures). In contrast, there's a strong tendency to look upon the existing social environment as permanent or nearly so, and changing the structure of society is likely to be dismissed as a utopian daydream. So I don't see a permanent/temporary distinction as very helpful."

    I don't see it so much as a permanent/temporary distinction, more a distinction about where the problem lies. In the medical model, the problem lies within the disabled person, and fixing the problem would require changing that person in some way. In the social model, the problem lies within the person's environment, so the way to fix the problem is to change their environment.
    In my opinion, a disability is a medical label applied to people and you are disabled if you are either personally labeled with a disability or a type of person commonly labeled with a disability. That's how I distinguish disabilities from other minorities. If you are disabled, the societal view is that you are a damaged person, someone to be pitied and fixed if possible. This seems distinct from being viewed as bad, in which case you are perceived as choosing not to conform, or being naturally inferior (such as women or lower class people) in which case you are not meant to have what others are given and should not seek to get more than your due, or simply being other (foreigners), in which case you don't belong in our society at all and should go away.

    By Blogger Ettina, at 6:38 PM  

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