Disability is the single greatest minority group

Roslyn Weaver writes that “According to Davis (2006b), disability is the single greatest minority group within the USA, at 15%, a number greater than any ethnic or racial minority (pp. xv,xviii). Despite this prevalence, in humanities studies ‘disabilities are still often forgotten when the litany of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and so on are articulated’ (Davis 2006b, p. xiii). In terms of popular depictions of disability, Tressider (2007) writes that films limit their engagement with disability to three main stereotypes:

Those which treat disability as grotesquerie, for whatever purpose […] Those which use disability as a cynosure for pity or redemption […] Those which use disability as a hook for a distinct ‘issue’, usually war or a social cause. (p. 6)” (Weaver, 70)  She continues: “We can see these tropes in literature as well. As Davis (2006a) notes, few main characters in literature have a disability; disabled characters are often villains, or sometimes objects of pity to teach the main non-disabled character a lesson, such as Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol (p. 11).” (Weaver, 71)

One of the developments in disability studies is the critique of conceptions of normality. Davis (2006a) argues against the concept of ‘normal’, writing that ‘the “problem” is not the person with disabilities; the problem is the way that normalcy is constructed to create the “problem” of the disabled person’ (p. 3). In particular, critics have targeted the understanding of disability solely as a medical condition. As Tremain (2005) notes, ‘people classified as “handicapped” or “disabled” have developed sociopolitical conceptions of disability in order to counter medicalized approaches’ (pp. 1-2). Davidson (2006) explains this development as ‘a shift from a medical to a social model of impairment’ (p. 119):

‘The medical definition of disability locates impairment in the individual as someone who lacks the full complement of physical and cognitive elements of true personhood and who must be cured or rehabilitated. The social model locates disability not in the individual’s impairment but in the environment – in social attitudes, institutional structures, and physical or communicational barriers that prevent full participation as citizen subject.’ (p. 119)

The social model of disability has its critics, such as Shakespeare (2006) who claims it implies that people are only disabled by society and not by their body. He suggests that this potentially means ‘rejecting medical prevention, rehabilitation or cure of impairment’ (p. 200). A better view, Shakespeare proposes, takes into account that people are disabled by both their body and society.” (Weaver, 71)

Ref: Roslyn Weaver (2010) ‘Metaphors of monstrosity: The werewolf as disability and illness in Harry Potter and Jatta’ Papers 20(2), pp.69-82
Reference is made to: Davis, L. J. (2006b) ‘Preface/Introduction’, in L. J. Davis (ed) The Disability Studies Reader (2nd ed). New York, Routledge, pp.xiii-xviii.  Tressider, V. (2007) ‘Follow the yellow brick(bat) road’, Disparity: Policy and Argument 4, 2, 4–9.    Davidson, M. (2006) ‘Universal design: the work of disability in an age of globalization’, in L.J. Davis (ed) The Disability Studies Reader (2nd ed). New York, Routledge, pp.117-28.    Davis, L. J. (2006a) ‘Constructing normalcy: the bell curve, the novel, and the invention of the disabled body in the nineteenth century’, in L. J. Davis (ed) The Disability Studies Reader (2nd ed). New York, Routledge, pp.3-16.    Shakespeare, T. (2006) ‘The social model of disability’, in L. J. Davis (ed) The Disability Studies Reader (2nd ed). New York, Routledge, pp.197-204.    Tremain, S. (2005) ‘Foucault, governmentality, and critical disability theory: an introduction’, in S. Tremain (ed) Foucault and the Government of Disability. Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, pp.1-24.


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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