The words, "disability," and "culture" are each value-laden, charged with emotion in every culture I have encountered. Almost all of us identify with more than one culture. Growing up I knew, for example, that I was male, that I was a Midwesterner United States , that I was Jewish, that I was middle class, that I was white, and probably many other things I am forgetting as I write this paragraph. The point is that each of these examples could be considered cultural.
I was also a person with a disability during most of my youth, but it was much later in my life that I identified myself that way. Moving to an international perspective the word "disability" has different connotations to diverse cultures just as the word "culture" does. The definition of disability that may have become the most known is that of someone who has a major life impairment preventing them from participating easily in a major activity such as walking, seeing, hearing, thinking.
But that definition is one of only dozens in the United States alone. Worldwide there may be hundreds, if not thousands, of definitions of disability and I would venture the same applies to the idea of culture. Any word that has such historical and contemporaneous significance will create controversy and interest. In the past two years I have been asked to describe and stimulate discussion about disability culture on two websites.
As a result of these efforts I have sought quotes about disability culture from sources around the world. The bulk of this paper will consist of other people's words with some hopefully descriptors about why these particular quotes are being used. One note about style and language. I have attempted to maintain the styles I found these words first formatted in out of respect to the authors and their wishes.
In the same vein, I have kept the language in its original spellings. I begin quoting myself from Investigating a Culture of Disability: Final Report published in after receiving the first monies from the Department of Education to do research about disability culture. The existence of a disability culture is a relatively new and contested idea. Not surprising, perhaps, for a group that has long been described with terms like "in-valid," "impaired," "limited," "crippled," and so forth. Scholars would be hard-pressed to discover terms of hope, endearment or ability associated with people with disabilities.
Brown, Investigating a Culture of Disability.
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The following quote I found online while searching for descriptions about disability culture from other countries. I know nothing about the author:. Disability can be represented as a culture, though the range of differences among the disabled is enormous. The disabled community is the most divers[e] there is.
It is therefore important to include self-reflection and self-criticism in disability studies programmes. Some difficult questions have already been asked: have these differences been used as a means of division and separation? Are people with severe developmental disabilities or learning disabilities regarded as full members of the club? Harlan Hahn, perhaps the first scholar to write about disability being beautiful, wondered, "Have you ever thought about going to McDonald's as part of your cultural heritage?
He says for people with mobility disabilities fast food restaurants are a cultural icon.
A New Zealand website I found included many links to disability culture and focused, as does much of the world, on employment. Encouraging and educating the public so society is informed and understands disability culture. One way this can be achieved is by ensuring a disabled person is included on employment interview panels. Ensuring the rights of disabled people are promoted and upheld.
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This can be achieved by ensuring a complaints process is understood by disabled people using particular services. Providing employment opportunities for disabled people. This can be achieved by ensuring employment criteria does not disadvantage disabled people. Foster leadership by disabled people. This can be done by ensuring disabled people are invited to training and education courses with other staff.
Support quality living in the community for disabled people. One way to achieve this is to offer a choice of living and support options for disabled people. Increase the collection and use of information about disabled people, issues and services. Promote participation of disabled Maori. This can be done by ensuring that they are included in discussions on policy development and service delivery. Promote participation of disabled Pacific Peoples. This can be done by ensuring disabled Pacific People can be involved and contribute to various organisations.
A South African Minister identified "disability culture" as a way to celebrate disability:. The struggle for inclusion is going to be a long one as the evolution of "disability culture" is still in an infant stage in our country.
A key function of "disability culture" is the celebration of the uniqueness of disability. It is my belief however that it will blossom as people with disabilities increasingly identify with each other and begin to express themselves more artistically and participate in the cultural life of society as a whole.
An Australian website includes a multi-tiered plan to utilize the arts, disability culture, and disability pride to focus on people with disability contributing to Australian society. Below is a small sampling of what's on their website:. Arts In Action, South Australia Eddie Bullitis describes disability culture as having evolved from a range of ingredients; issues with which people with a disability have always been grappling, such as segregation, tolerance, celebration, unity, common experience, oppression and barriers.
To some people the very notion appears dangerous because it implies a return to past eras of segregation and separation and might be a cause of fear and confusion.
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However, one of the powerful objectives of identifying a cultural movement is to be able to bring about positive changes of attitude, systems and laws, through shared thought and action. Disability culture offers people with a disability another framework of possibility or choice.
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Sally Chance states that the idea of belonging to a culture of disability is offered to the members of Restless, within the specific context of the company, as a possible means of forging individual identity. Often this is a means of counterbalancing the views of some members of society. It is a choice among many possible choices of a means of identifying oneself. Disability culture is about visibility and self value. As with many groups in society, recognition by others only comes with self awareness within the group of the groups' differences and strengths.
Disability culture offers ways for people with different disabilities to pursue their own, as well as shared goals. Disability culture is already being advanced by developments in technology, which are facilitating communication in ways unheard of in recent times. Bulletin boards have been a standard form The concept of cultures of disability lends the drive towards these outcomes political clout, leading to opportunities for creative involvement at a community and professional level.
A confident and forward thinking disability culture perspective is a powerful mechanism with which to voice the issues, legitimise our collective claims within health and sociopolitical contexts, as well as the arts, and gain support. The future of networking and sharing information for some years while the internet can only develop this form of communication.
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South Australia based Heather Rose was able to create the scenario and screen play for the movie Dance Me To My Song, realising her own artistic skills due to developments in adapted technology. Above all, this paper proposes that an Australian model of disability culture is emerging, exemplified by the High Beam Festival, and worth consideration and discussion by artists with a disability, artists, people with a disability, their families and friends, professionals and volunteers working in the disability sector and people working in community cultural development, because it is open and flexible, attracting people through their interest.
The disability culture movement's basis in the arts ensures that the issues are voiced in ways which allow the imagination of our fellow human beings to be touched. The disability culture movement is dynamic, responsive and developing as greater numbers of people with a disability are able to contribute to its progress. The movement provides a powerful medium for the voice of people with a disability to be heard with dignity, in a spirit of collaboration with people with and without a disability, pointing to a future direction not merely based in social justice and redressing inequalities but in the pursuit of common goals.
Osamu Nagase first contacted me while he was in Europe working on a Master's Thesis about disability and especially deafness in Japan. One chapter was about disability culture. I found his entire thesis on the internet and include that chapter below. It is reprinted with Nagase's permission. If I am what I am today, you know, deep inside, the way my mind works, it is because of disability. Disability has enriched my life. Venkatesh, India.
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In this chapter, I will discuss disability culture as an emerging movement to "take pride in disability" Brown, A disability culture acknowledges life with a disability as a way of life, which means that the life of disabled people is not necessarily tragic or devalued. The creation of a disability culture is a basis for the establishment and implementation of disability rights - a requirement for equality - without creating or deepening "dilemma of difference".
This is to say, the establishment of disability as a way of life ensures disability-conscious social organizations.