Debating Disability Labels

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[Culture] [ULK Issue 60]
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Debating Disability Labels

Regarding ULK 57 and "disability". A deaf person is hearing impacted. A paralyzed person is mobility impacted. Together they are physically impacted. Their physical states are influenced by what impacted them — some ailment, incident, or birth condition.

"Disabled" and "challenged" takes something away, some quality or value of the person, as if they are the sum of their physical condition, objectified. "Disabled" in today's reactionary culture and mindset conveys inferior, a tacit separation that, repeated ritually to and by the impacted person, becomes psychologically embedded and the person feels actually inferior — has self-doubts, is self-conscious.

I've been deaf since age 15 and could never say that I was "deaf" even, but said I had a "hearing problem." When referred to as being "deaf," I felt lower than everyone else. I've gotten over it by now, of course, at age 63, but just to say that semantic runs deep with physically and mentally impacted people, and can be a very sensitive thing. Another angle is that transgender people are considered in Western medicine to have a mental "disorder," and so on. Well, that's my 2ยข. The article was rather interesting to me.


MIM(Prisons) responds: Language is an important part of culture, and something that revolutionaries have a responsibility to use for political purpose. So we appreciate this comrade raising criticisms of our use of language in ULK 57.

As a launching off point in this discussion, we will bring up our use of the word [email protected]. We use an @ symbol instead of an 'o' or 'a' to convey multiple political points: the @ is not gender-specific; the term is encompassing an oppressed nation and explicitly rejecting Amerikan labels like "Hispanic."

With that in mind we want to look carefully at this term "disability" to consider these criticisms. We do not want to suggest that someone who cannot hear or cannot see is inferior to someone who can. All people have different abilities. Some of these abilities can be trained, but some are things we're born with. Some people, for instance, are stronger than others. The weaker folks aren't inferior, but they might be better suited to tasks that don't require as much physical strength.

This was discussed in the book Philosophy is No Mystery which describes struggles in a village in revolutionary China. One of the challenges they faced was strong young men acting as if their work was more valuable than that of weaker folks (mostly wimmin, but also elderly people and children). However, upon deeper discussion everyone came to agree that the work done by all was critical to their success, and valuing strength over other types of labor was counter-productive.

Let's address the question of whether the term "disability" is similar to saying a transgendered persyn has a "disorder." Transgender folks are often said to have "gender dysphoria" which is the stress a persyn feels as a result of the sex they were assigned at birth. The assigned sex does not match the persyn's internal identity. That's a situation some transgender people seek to address by changing their physical body to match their internal identity. Transgender folks face a difficult situation that needs resolving for them to lead healthy and happy lives.

It's true that when we hear "disability" we generally think of things we would want to fix. But is that a bad thing? When people have vision problems that can be corrected, we want to use medical science to correct them. For instance, removal of cataracts cures blindness in many people. Similarly, if someone is missing a leg, getting fitted with a prosthesis is often a very good thing. In these situations someone lacks the ability to use a part of their body to its full potential. And in some cases this ability can be restored.

So perhaps the analogy we would make is that missing a leg is like someone being assigned a sex that doesn't match their internal identity. The gender dysphoria they experience before transitioning is like lacking a prosthesis for someone without a leg. Making the transition to a sex or gender expression that matches their identity is for any transgender persyn somewhat analogous to people with physical dis-abilities getting them surgically or prosthetically corrected. If we can resolve gender dysphoria, by changing society or improving the persyn's individual situation, we should do that. Just like if we can provide prosthetic limbs and cataract surgery, we should do that.

Where using the term "disability" becomes more complex and muddy is in cases where the persyn impacted doesn't want to make a change. There are some good examples of this, like neuro-atypical folks who have developed highly specialized skills because of their neurology, but struggle to socialize or interact with other people. Some argue this is not something to be fixed but is just a humyn difference. And so we shouldn't call that a disability, but rather just a different ability. However, in the types of cases that were discussed in the issue of ULK in question, the ailments and physical limitations are things we all agree should be fixed if possible. We don't see anyone arguing that keeping cataracts help people in any way.

The question here is whether we can distinguish between conditions that people don't want to change, differences between humyns, and conditions that people can generally agree we should change if possible. If we can, the term "disability" may be appropriate for the category of conditions we would change if possible. And then the final question we must answer is whether the term "disability" in our social context implies that someone is inferior. As we've already said above, we want to use language to empower and build revolutionary culture. This last point is the most difficult one and we'd like to solicit input from other readers, and especially those who contributed to ULK 57. Send us your thoughts on this topic and we will study it further and publish something in an upcoming issue of Under Lock & Key.

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