Is the diversity movement inclusive of disability culture? Will the archaic medical model and institutional/patriarchical viewpoints be cast off for the social justice model that individuals with disabilities prefer?
The medical model of disability would have society believe there is something “wrong” with individuals who have disabilities and we need to be “fixed” by way of medications and medical interventions. The social justice model infuses the disability community with positive philosophies and practices incorporating education, activism, peer mentoring, role models and pride. Changes in attitudes can only occur when people mobilize and change the images that the medical model and media have perpetuated about being “disabled.”
Disability is an equal opportunity experience! It is a diverse opportunity for all races, ethnicities, ages, religions, genders, sexual orientation, etc. Currently one out of every five people in America has a disability. Still our history is not told. Our civil rights movement is muffled; Disability Studies programs are rare in classrooms. Few people know who our leaders are or what the eugenics movement was. How many people were murdered in the name of eugenics and experimentation? It’s part of our history that was squelched but it needs to be exposed so it never occurs again!
Pride is essential to self worth. Disability PRIDE—it’s not so illusive anymore. Our role models are becoming younger. They are brighter, more educated and yes, even sexier! It is time to rid society of those stereotypes that are ill fitting and of those harmful slurs. Purge the “R” word from our vocabularies and cease the word “wheelchair bound” from the lips and pens of journalists as well as “crippled by” and “suffers from.” Focus on our talents and abilities and our resilience and determination. Learn to admire us for our innovations and creativity for doing things differently.
Just think of the many things people take for granted that were developed for people with disabilities that have crossed that market into the mainstream! Curb cuts and electric doors are utilized by UPS guys and moms with strollers and those pushing grocery carts. Books on CDs or in electronic media were once for blind people only. Jacuzzi bathtubs anyone? They were developed for spinal cord injuries years ago. Velcro, ergonomic handles on kitchen tools, speech recognition for computers and so much more. All examples of things people of all abilities daily use.
Alexander the Great, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, Jack Nicholson, Cher, Stephen Hawking, Justin Dart, Michael J. Fox, Mohammed Ali, Ed Roberts, Tom Cruise, Ari Ne’eman, Senator Daniel Inouye, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Jose Jimenez …all role models with disabilities and all synonymous with dignity and pride where Diversity is concerned. Move us forward – collaboration is key. Become cross culturally competent as we all must do no matter what our differences are. There is no such thing as “We” and “They” where disability is concerned!
Susan L. Gjolmesli
Director, Disability Resource Center