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Posted on Mon 1 Mar 2021


What is Disabledness to You?? Article by Rowan James Part 2

Part Two of Rowan James's reflections on being a Resident in the Studio

The Trouble With Normal People Is They Don't Exist

Image from the National Disability Art Archive

I think it's apt to highlight my choice to use disabledness in this article, I tried to use a word that best fits how interchangeable D/disabled and disabilities are and the connotations are tiresome, but very real in our understanding of Disabledness.

I start with this question because I think it is assumed we know. But what disability or being disabled is, is governed by your experiences. How we define this simple or not so simple question, defines the conversation we are having. Disability has many competing definitions.

My identity is entirely due to the discrimination I face and mostly resist anyone's right to put a label on me without my consent.

The social model defines disability as a social construct and recognises disabled people as a group that experiences discrimination within society. Summed up in a handy phrase: Stares and Stairs referring to unwanted gazing and inaccessible building structures so both physical and social barriers are considered because people’s prejudice and the built environment are both social constructions which actively disable certain people.

The Medical model says that disability is defined by a person's medical condition so a focus on what a person can and can’t do. So the problem is a lack of mobility in a person’s lips which is ‘fixed’ by the use of technical or medical intervention like speech therapy. With this definition the cause of disability is in the body or mind of the disabled person. The problem with the medical model is that it stigmatizes disabled people, denies their agency, ignores their oppression, and sees them only as problems to be fixed, while often acting as a proxy for even more abhorrent beliefs about disability as a divine punishment or moral failing.

The social model is sometimes criticised for ignoring the medical factors that affect a person's experience of disability, but often I think this is pedantic and taken out of context. The point of the social model is to take the focus off the individual and consider other structures that affect a person's access, inclusion and quality of life.

My beef with the social model is that institutions use the term as a dishonest shield to deny discussion and scrutiny of their own disablism. They add some statement about following the social model to a webpage and then do nothing and still use medical model language and sentiment throughout the organisation. They do little to instill the social model into the staff ethos, procedures or physical infrastructure.

The cultural model is the one that most fits me, it rejects both medical and social models describing disability as a cultural idea that shifts depending on the society the individual inhabits.

To this idea, using Disabledness seem the most compatible. Ideas about models of disability are explored in my new show: ‘a room full of elephant’ and this excerpt from my poem entitled ipad is disabled can be viewed here.

iPad Is Disabled

The Operational message said
‘iPad is disabled’
So I phoned the Apple store and #I said, ‘In which way is my iPad disabled?’
Mr James, he said, your iPad has a medical disability
Your iPad is impaired,
There is something wrong with your iPad,
Please take device to the nearest Apple store
We’ll then be able to restore your iPad to normal capabilities,
By mending or replacing affected areas,
Your iPad will run at nearly normal capacity
In extreme cases iPad may be quarantined for its own safety
And the safety of other devices.

So I took it to the Apple Store
And they told me.
Your iPad is charitably disabled,
Your iPad is impaired,
Even simple tasks overload its poor little operating system,
Your iPad needs understanding and sympathy,
Your warranty does not cover such action, however there are Apple affiliated support groups where it can complete tasks in line with its potential.

So I took it to the Apple Affiliated support group.
Your iPad is GREAT!
Your iPad is inspirational-ly disabled,
despite some operational glitches,
These should be celebrated and recognised as the key features that make it unique Can be seen as an inspiration,
To all tablet devices.

So, I took it to Microsoft
Your iPad is disabled by society,
Your iPad although working outside normal operating standards, Is capable of most tasks.
However, the network is not compatible with your device
It will not allow you access to certain prohibited areas
If the network settings can be changed your iPad
Will work as desired

iPad experiences disability
Your iPad has a small operational glitch
Your iPad is now classed as having a disability
The network will disable your iPad frequently
Due to company policy, existing structures and procedures.
Please isolate your ipad as soon as possible by phoning our helpline, Our engineers may see past the glitch depending on their understanding. In most cases your ipad will be red taped and recorded as disabled in our system In extreme cases your iPad will be ignored and left to die.

So I rang up an independent engineer.
Mr James, Your iPad is culturally disabled
There is nothing really wrong with your ipad
I think you just typed in your password incorrectly mate.
Wait 30 seconds and it will reset.

Recently Rosie Jones appeared on question time and delivered this hugely important speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNSLpeNLbc8

I would echo lots of Rosie’s sentiments, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity in my life but still experience high levels of everyday descrimination.

Written by Rowan James.

 

This article is Part 2 of 2. The first in which Rowan offers his perspective on an article published by Watershed can be found here:

Article by Rowan James Part 1