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Physical Disabilities and Oppression

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Jessica Howard

on 7 November 2012

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Transcript of Physical Disabilities and Oppression

Oppression of Individuals with Physical Disabilities Social Location and Media Social location: we learn who we are by locating ourselves in relation to others. Social location tells the individual what they may and may not do and what they can expect from life. (Berger & Luckmann, 1966) Media Representation: Exclusionary "Othering" and Implicit Superiority of Able-Bodied People "Othering relies on a binary dyad that divides a population into ‘us’ (who belong) and ‘them’ (who do not belong). It creates exclusion and “power over” relationships that create hierarchies of superiority and inferiority amongst groups of human beings. Othering presumes dominant group is the norm and sets the standards whereby other groups are judged (Dominelli, 2009)." Historically (although not as prevalent these days), people with physical disabilities have been represented in movies as villains. With their bitter personalities, disabilities are a physical representation of a character flaw. Dustin Hoffman as Hook, 1991. Richard Bremmer as Lord Voldemort, 2001. "[Othering] enhances the disabled characters’ isolation by reducing them to objectifications of pity, fear, scorn, etc. – in short, objects of spectacle—as a means of pandering to the needs of the able-bodied majority, and it contributes to a sense of isolation and self-loathing among audience members."
(Norden, 1994) The "angry misshapen villain" has a chance to overcome their bitterness if they can assimilate to the dominant culture. Notice how Lieutenant Dan is standing at the same height as Forrest? Assimilation is used as a symbol of overcoming the emotional and physical "problems." This character moves from villain to inspirational hero that has conquered personal obstacles. Many movies centered on people with disabilities end with the character either being cured or dying, leading the viewer to assume that living with a disability cannot be fulfilling or rewarding. Oppression What is a Disability? The US Department of Labor (2010) says this about physical disabilities: The definition of ‘disability’ varies depending on the purpose for which it is being used. Federal and state agencies generally use a definition that is specific to a particular program or service. For example: "For purposes of nondiscrimination laws (e.g. the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Section 188 of the Workforce Investment Act), a person with a disability is generally defined as someone who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more "major life activities," (2) has a record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment" "To be found disabled for purposes of Social Security disability benefits, individuals must have a severe disability (or combination of disabilities) that has lasted, or is expected to last, at least 12 months or result in death, and which prevents working at a "substantial gainful activity" level" "State vocational rehabilitation (VR) offices will find a person with a disability to be eligible for VR services if he or she has a physical or mental impairment that constitutes or results in a "substantial impediment" to employment for the applicant.” Summary of Physical Disabilities in
the United States Number of adults with hearing trouble: 37.1 million
Percent of adults with hearing trouble: 16.2% Number of adults with vision trouble: 21.5 million
Percent of adults with vision trouble: 9.4% Number of adults unable (or very difficult) to walk a quarter mile: 16.7 million
Percent of adults unable (or very difficult) to walk a quarter mile: 7.3% Number of adults with any physical functioning difficulty: 35.8 million
Percent of adults with any physical functioning difficulty: 15.6%
(Schiller 2012) Lessons Learned Marginalization Discrimination Able Bodied Privilege Able-bodied privilege checklist Young (2000) defines oppression as injustice in society. Marginalization takes place when people are divided, denying certain groups access to labor. Although some individuals with physical disabilities are incapable of preforming all work tasks, it is discrimination in the work place that marginalizes the group, not their disabilities. Exploitation Violence Exploitation occurs within systems of oppression. Groups with power transfer undesirable labor to marginalized groups. This is evident among individuals with disabilities. In many cases, individuals with disabilities are only granted access to unstable, poorly paying job opportunities. The disabled population clearly lacks power. They do not have the ability to create social change or progress their social development. Throughout history there has existed the connotation that individuals with disabilities can not think for themselves and thus, the population in power has done it for them. Powerlessness Cultural imperialism refers to the oppression of a group submerged in a dominant culture, established by norms that the oppressed group does not conform to. Persons with disabilities are reminded everyday of their inability to fit societies cultural model. They are often portrayed as the "other" and dehumanized through pity, sorrow, and even fear. Cultural Imperialism Violence is used to oppress a population through fear, humiliation, and/or physical harm. Although no longer as prevalent, physically disabled individuals have been targeted for hate crimes and other acts of violence as a societal means of keeping the group suppressed. References Berger, P., & Luckmann, T. (1966). The Social Construction of Reality. Retrieved from books.google.com
Branfield, F. (1999).The disability movement: A movement of disabled people--a response to Paul S Duckett. Disability & Society, 14(3).

“Disabled.” Retrieved from thesaurus.com
“Disabled.” Retrieved from etymonline.com

Dominelli, L. (2009). Citizenship for Whom: Diversity and ‘Othering’ [PowerPoint]. Retrieved from: http://web.uvic.ca/cidis/docs/CitizenshipforWhomCopenhangenMay09.pdf

Frank, Gelya. (2000) Venus on Wheels: Two Decades of Dialogue on Disability, Biography, and Being Female in America. University of California Press

Gallagher, H. (2001). What the nazi "euthanasia program" can tell us about disability oppression. Journal of Disability Policy Studies , 12(2), 96-99. doi: 10.1177/104420730101200206

Johnson, M. (1989). The “super-crip” stereotype: Press victimization of disabled people. The Newsletter on Journalism Ethics, 1(4), 2.

Norden, M. (1994). Cinema Of Isolation: A History of Physical Disability in the Movies. Retrieved from: books.google.com

Riley, C.A. (2005). Disability and the Media: Prescriptions for Change. Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England. Retrieved from books.google.com.

Schiller JS, Lucas JW, Ward BW, Peregoy JA. Summary health statistics for U.S. adults: National Health Interview Survey, (2010) National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 10(252). 2012.

Taleporos, George and Marita P. McCabe. (2002) The Impact of Physical Disability on Body Esteem. “Sexuality and Disability” Vol. 19, No. 4. Human Science Press Inc.

U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2010). Frequently Asked Questions. retrieved from www.dol.gov.

U.S. Congress. (1990). Americans with Disabilities Act. Retrieved from: http://www.ada.gov/archive/adastat91.htm

Winter, J.A. (2003). The Development of the Disability Rights Movement as a Social Problem Solver. Disability Studies Quarterly, 23(1), 33-61.





Zola, I (1982) Missing Pieces: A Chronicle of Living with a Disability. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Peoples with physical disabilities face discrimination daily when they are viewed with negative attitudes and excluded from able bodied society. They are often denied jobs, rejected from educational institutions, denied access to public transportation and lack accessibility to goods and resources. Individuals with disabilities constitute the nation's largest marginalized group (Schiller). Over 65 percent of working-age adults with disabilities are unemployed. Of these working adults, nearly one third earn an income below the poverty level. This is despite the fact that, according to the U.S. Department of Education, workers with disabilities are rated consistently as average or above average in performance, quality and quantity of work, flexibility, and attendance (Schiller). Although there has been recent progress toward social justice, the majority of people with disabilities remain poor, under-employed and under-educated due to inequality and oppression. History Throughout history disabled persons have been seen as flawed individuals who were not seen as capable of thinking for themselves or making their own decisions. As recently as the early 1900s, disabled individuals were institutionalized against their will, sterilized without their permission and denied education, transportation, employment, and the right to vote (Gallagher 2010). Disability and Body Image One of the most blatant examples of oppression faced by disabled individuals occurred in Germany during the 1930s. The German Euthanasie program of the Third Reich claimed 100,000 disabled people. Individuals with both physical and learning disabilities were butchered as a consequence of Hitler’s eugenic ideology (Gallagher 2010). Men with physical disabilities, particularly those who must rely upon devices such as wheelchairs, crutches, canes, and artificial limbs to obtain mobility, often feel unable to match the masculine ideals of society. In many cases, such damage to self esteem is only perpetuated by Zola’s (1982) idea that “not only are men with physical disabilities…perceived as undesirable, they are also perceived to be asexual”. One man speaks about insecurity (Taleporos and McCabe 2002):

“I’m different and I’m aware of my difference being what it is. And I see people who I find very attractive and I’m conscious that my chances of scoring with them are non-existent…I am conscious of my difference and I don’t have the confidence to go up to other people" (Taleporos and McCabe 2002). Disabled women often times do not fit the narrow definition of ideal feminine beauty and are often perceived as unattractive and non sexual. A young disabled woman describes her childhood:

“I never heard the words, ‘Wait till you become a mother,’ or ‘Someday when you are married, you will understand.’ Even though my toys represented the perfect socialization of a little girl into wife and mother, they were probably given to me with the belief that they would be the closest I would ever get to the real thing. Neither of my parents ever felt I would someday become a sexually attractive female, let alone marry” (Frank 2000: 62). This can be demonstrated through the "Five Faces of Oppression": Marginalization, Exploitation, Powerlessness, Violence and Cultural Imperialism. There is a set of unearned advantages that comes with being able-bodied. When these privileges are ignored and assumed as a norm, they only continue to perpetuate the oppression of physically disabled individuals. Much like white privilege, male privilege, and class privilege, able-bodied privilege is not often identified but lies at the root of oppression.

1. I can easily arrange to be in the company of people of my physical ability.

2. If I need to move, I can easily be assured of purchasing housing I can get access to easily - accessibility is one thing I do not need to make a special point of looking for.

3. I can be assured that my entire neighborhood will be accessible to me.

4. I can assume that I can go shopping alone, and they will always have appropriate accommodations to make this experience hassle-free.

5. I can turn on the television or open a newspaper and see people of my physical ability represented.

6. When I learned about history, people of my physical ability were well represented. 7. I was given curricular material which showed people like me as a role model.

8. I can be assured that assumptions about my mental capabilities will not be made based on my physical status.

9. I can do well in challenging situations very often without being told what an inspiration I must be to other able-bodied people.

10. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having someone suspect I got my job because of my disability.

11. If I am fired, not given a raise, or not hired, I do not have to question whether it had anything to do with my appearing physically incompetent. Lisa Harrison & Jessica Howard Media Representation: Bitter Villain Media Representation: The "Supercrip" Usually athletes and entertainers that "overcome" their obstacles. We call them courageous, "in spite of" their stories. This conveys the message of success or failure of living with a disability stems from the choices and character of the individual. Media Representation: The Saintly Disabled The "saintly disabled" are often children. They rarely make it to adulthood, either dying young or experience a miracle cure. Discrimination From Thesaurus.com:

Main Entry:disabled [dis-ey-buhld]

Part of Speech:Adjective

Definition:Incapacitated

Synonyms:broken-down, confined, decrepit, disarmed,hamstrung, handicapped, helpless, hurt,incapable, infirm, laid-up, lame, maimed, out-of-action, out-of-commission, paralyzed, powerless,run-down, sidelined, stalled, weakened, worn-out, wounded, wrecked

Antonyms:able, healthy Looking at the use of language, the word "disabled" implies something is lacking. In etymology, 'dis-' means "the opposite of," and 'ablen' means "to make fit." Thus, disabled signifies make unfit or render unsuitable (etymonline.com).

The term "disabled people" when compared to "people with disabilities" implies that people are defined by this identity, rather than their experience as a human first. Ways that people with disabilities are discriminated: - Difficulty in finding housing
- More likely to be sexually abused and assaulted
- Paid lower wages
- Discrimination in the job market
- More likely to be put in institutional settings
- Often made to go to separate schools to get a decent education
- Accessibility to public space is often overlooked and difficult, if possible, to navigate, especially if the building was build before 1990.
- Labeled as 'lazy' or 'free-loaders' by society, yet are not allowed to contribute to society at full capacity
- ADA does not cover airline travel, so airlines have the right to refuse service to a person in a wheelchair
- Discouraged from marriage
- Are not prevalently represented in media, and they are, are turned into objects of pity, scorn, or two-dimensional heroes. In our research, one of the most interesting pieces of information was the way that the media has hurt the Disability Movement. By classifying the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act as a medical law, rather than an anti-discrimination law, the Disability Movement is not as well recognized or successful as other New Social Movements. What is ironic in this, is that this cause of basic civil rights has not been furthered because the general public has not had the same access to it as other movements.

What is interesting about this population is that people with disabilities have subcommunities within themselves. It is disheartening that people that have mobility, hearing, and visually impairments are all grouped together. We feel that the individuals of each of these groups have very different experiences within, and that society, to recognize them as one is minimizing the differences between them.

In processing the information and facts that Lisa and Jessica have uncovered in this project, a phrase came about that really resonated with us in finishing this project: People with impairments are suffering from discrimination rather than suffering from disabilities. In examining Young's Five Faces of Oppression, able-bodied privilege, and marginalization in media and greater society, we were able to examine our part in colluding with a system that upholds oppression. As social workers, we realize that we have to challenge ourselves to further our education and competency in knowing about this community's issues, but also challenge those around us, including greater society and policy to be allies in dismantling the oppression of people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 The ADA was created to "assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for such individuals (ADA, 1990)."

"In enacting the ADA, Congress recognized that physical and mental disabilities in no way diminish a person’s right to fully participate in all aspects of society, but that people with physical or mental disabilities are frequently precluded from doing so because of prejudice, antiquated attitudes, or the failure to remove societal and institutional barriers (ADAA, 2008)."

The titles in ADA give lawful protection from discrimination in employment, public entities (and public transit), public accommodations (and public buildings), telecommunications, and miscellaneous provisions, including coercion and retaliation.

The ADA defines disability: a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
Young, I. M. (2000). Five faces of oppression. In M. Adams, W. J. Blumenfeld, R. Casteñeda, H. W. Hackman, M. L. Peters, and X. Zuniga (Eds.) Readings for diversity and social justice: An anthology on racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, heterosexism, classism and ableism (pp. 35-49). New York: Routledge
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