As 2009 begins, I enter the new year brimming with optimism, especially when it comes to the essential goodness of my fellow man. This is because just yesterday (as we still battle the snow, and an apathetic city, here in Vancouver)my friend Kent and I were refused pick up by a local cab, only to be taken home by a father and son team in their BMW. So Don and Alex, wherever you find yourselves on this day, this blog is for you…
I also have high hopes for ThisAbility in 2009. I hope to delve deeper into the many issues and permutations of disability in all their forms. I also hope to replace the Eastern European jibberish spam in the comment fields with actual english comments, but since the second resolution is up to you all, I figure I’ll just focus on the first.
But before I start wading into more complex territory, it occurs to me that I must prepare my audience with a lesson in terms. The disability civil rights movement is intimately familiar with the ying and yang of philosophies proposed when relating to disability on a macro level.
On the one side, is The Medical Model: The idea that disability is a flaw in the person caused by a physical or mental impairment that must be controlled and whenever possible fixed through sustained, individual medical treatment. The focus is on a cure or a change in behavior that would at least reach an almost cure.
Responsibility rests on the medical care and the individual person. For example, “If they just didn’t sit that way, or tried a little harder. or if there was better medical care, they wouldn’t be as bad off as they are. Isn’t that too bad.”
On the other side, there is The Social Model: The idea that true disability is the result of social problem. Here the responsibility rests not with the idividual, but with people with disabilities not being fully intergrated into society. This is caused by a variety of factors in the social environment, traditionally combated through activism and social awareness. The Social Model places disability as a human rights issue, not a medical one. Someone who believes in The Social Model feels that it’s not their diagnosis that puts them at a disadvantage, but a society that prioritizes the able-bodied world. Barriers and prejedice (whether purposely or indifferently) are the real determining factors for who is disabled and who is not in the world.
Obviously, this blog leans toward The Social Model most often. In the next couple entries, I will begin to expose the conflict between the medical model and social model in my own life. There are times it will be me vs. the world, me vs. my relationships or me vs. myself. There are a lot of flaws in leaning too far toward one model or the other, but the central question of this blog will always be, where does personal responsibility for one’s disability end, or social responsibility begin and vice-versa?
Together we may not ever find a difinitive answer to this question, but at least, by the end, the light on these issues will shine brighter.
Aaron is a freelance journalist living in Toronto. His work has appeared in Financial Post Business, Investment Executive Newspaper, and TV Week Magazine, along with Askmen.com. He is a regular contributor to Abilities Magazine and is currently plotting a weekly web comic called GIMP, with artist Jon Duguay, about a handicap school bus driver who wakes up after a crash to find he’s the last able-bodied person on earth — and he’s being hunted.