A Thin Line Between "Disabled" and "Abled"
One of the challenges that the disability rights movement has put before us all is to see disability in the context of how society has created a somewhat arbitrary “line” between ‘disabled’ and ‘abled’. We have been urged to see disability as a natural part of the human condition, with all people falling along that continuum at different places throughout life. For example, we enter the world almost completely disabled, and many of us will become so again in our later years. In between, we all experience varying degrees of ability and disability, which really enters into a simple discussion of how much support do we need at a given time to negotiate the world.
To me, this gives a more satisfying way to think about disability and ability, and also helps undo some of the medical model formation that trains professionals (and everyone) that there are two distinct types of people – ‘us’ (the helpers and so-called non-disabled people) and ‘them’ (the disabled people themselves). It was an uncomfortable way for me to structure my thinking at first, but over time I have come to appreciate it a great deal. It is much more nuanced and real to me. Fitting this in into our practice as professionals is very hard, though, because much of the traditional thinking around disability is at odds with this in significant ways. In fact, it seems as though many professionals find it threatening.
Here in India, medical model thinking is an strongly embedded notion that is just now being challenged by those fighting for the cause of disability rights. As has happened in many other places, this strong advocacy is led by people with physical disability, and is informed by historical civil rights movements all over the world. There is a long way to travel for people with developmental and psycho-social disability, as there is for many other groups of marginalized and oppressed people. Mindsets run deep, but the conversation is moving, and the lines that separate people are a little less clear.