This will hopefully be the first of a two-part discussion on disability, the next to follow in several months, and to focus on mental ill-health/”psychological disability”, race, and class. This is meant to be a broad overview of themes, ideas, and movements, through comments on Ravi Malhotra’s article, “The Politics of the Disability Rights Movement.”
The Two Dominant of Models of Understanding Disability
The 2 dominant models for thinking about disability in the US and Western European contexts are the “medical model” promoted by a capitalist medical system that sees disability as physical limitations that need to be cured, either through eugenics (the idea of eradication of people with disabilities, also used to argue for the elimination of people of color), treatment, assistive devices (such as wheelchairs, brail, or sign language) without a broader analysis of the physical and social barriers that make these devices necessary. The medical model has also had clear racist components, by pathologizing people of color as “crazy”, and therefore mentally ill and in need of hospitalization or aggressive and often violent medical treatment. The medical model fundamentally treats people with disability as if they are a second-class, homogenous group of people, while individualizing disability and preventing collective struggle against both ablism and unequal health and safety. The “social model” was developed primarily by disabled peoples movements and serves as a counter to the medical model, and makes a distinction between impairments, or physical or emotional situations, and disability, which are the social conditions created by an ablest society that manifest as barriers for people with impairments. In what follows, I argue that what’s missing from both these models is a way of simultaneously valuing the capabilities of folks who are disabled by a capitalist, patriarchal, and ablest system and value the caring work necessary for people whose state of health, mobility, or emotional difference and distress mean that they are not going to participate in work in any sense; this necessitates the recognition and encouragement by revolutionary movements of the simultaneous autonomy and interdependence of folks engaged in caring work and folks being cared for.
“The Politics of the Disability Rights Movement”
Using Ravi Malhotra’s 2001 article (link above) in New Politics I hope to make an intervention calling for a critical rethinking of disability, and struggles of disabled folks. This article makes a couple of key interventions
+A critique of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other “disability rights” legislation for being individualized legislation that was based on the idea of disabled people as consumers. The ADA serves a similar role to that of labor contracts typically negotiated by trade unions: making the world a safe place for disabled people to consume and work. The ADA relies on individual disabled folks or class action groups to sue companies or businesses that break the ADA, but does not call for a restructuring of society to make it lest ablest.