I’m just now finishing up a story for Inc.’s October 2005 issue, about a company called Habitat International that mostly hires people with mental disabilities, physical disabilities or both. I’ve written about disability issues before, but I’d forgotten that the 50 million people in the United States with a disability are actually the country’s largest minority group –there are more people with disabilities than there are African Americans or Latinos. (There are about 35 million African Americans and Latinos in the U.S.) And I’d also forgotten about the idea that once captivated me: "disability culture".
In a disability culture, people with disabilities have a group identity, almost like an ethnicity, that informs art, music, literature. If you are a proponent of disability culture, instead of seeing a mental or physical handicap as something to cure, or an obstacle to overcome, you see the infirmity as something to celebrate, in the way you’d celebrate a religion, a nationality, or an ethnic background.
I want to think about this for a while. It seems to me that there are a lot of positive aspects to this movement –it’s nice, isn’t it, that people who are Jewish and once felt ashamed of their religion, for example, can feel good about it, or people who once saw their race or ethnicity as an obstacle to success are now seeing it as a source of strength? But, on the other hand, if someone uses the glorification of their illness –and I’m thinking about mental illness primarily –to avoid taking their medications or seeking treatment, so that they can revel in the full flowering of their condition that they will then celebrate, maybe disability culture isn’t so nice– maybe it’s even dangerous? Do the benefits of "disability culture" outweigh the drawbacks, or not?
Interesting. Must find the book that I’ve had on my shelf for a few years about disability culture, called No Pity. Must mull further.