Nothing About Us, Without Us
The lived oppression that people with disabilities have experienced and continue to experience is a human rights tragedy of epic proportions. Only in the last few decades has this begun to be recognised and resisted. Today, in fact, we are witnessing a profound sea change among people with disabilities. For the first time, a movement of people with disabilities has emerged in every region of the world which is demanding recognition of their human rights and their central role in determining those rights.
“Nothing About Us Without Us“, a landmark book by James I. Charlton, is the defining document in the literature of disability culture. The culture always existed, but the acknowledgement of it did not.
Learning to live with a disability exposes one to the culture. Depending on the severity or type of disability, people with disabilities experience the world totally different from anyone else.
Disability culture is unique in the aspect that it crosses all economic, gender and race barriers. No one is considered exempt from becoming disabled. Indeed, there is a school of thought that non-disabled people are merely TAB “temporarily-able bodied”. Old age, disease, and accidents insure those of the non-disabled sector will turn to the disabled culture for advice and direction. Only an untimely death will allow an escape from the inevitable.
There is a credible argument that the need for universal design and access are important to all. However, whilst a mental disability and the issues surrounding it are different from those surrounding people with physical disabilities, the disability culture should form a united front.
What about mental barriers? Those with developmental disabilities, such as autism, face a different kind of discrimination, one that is based in fear and old wives tales. The multitudes of diagnoses are much harder to prove, not only to a potential employer, but also to family and friends. Mental illnesses and the like still carry the stigma of loss of control. In the old days, autism was labelled “pathologically withdrawn”, among others. After decades of research and discovery, horrifying names such as that have been replaced with more appropriate dialog. Nevertheless, the fear of mental disability remains, as the human mind is still a vast frontier to most scientists looking for reasons why mental disabilities occur, and how to eradicate them.
The disability community, along with its culture, is a political sleeping giant that is starting to wake up.