I am dissecting Dr. Brown’s ideas about vulnerability and connection in relation to disability. She argues that feeling connected to other people makes life worth living and in order to achieve this, people need to be authentic and thus vulnerable. While I completely agree with her overall point, my immediate reaction was to wonder how disability fit into the picture. In my last entry Authenticity’s Risk, I examined how the vulnerability is made more complex by disability. Even if it were possible to erase all those implications, societal expectations and perceptions of disability would still foster a disconnect between disabled people and our TAB counterparts. Obviously I have examined this issue before, but not specifically as it relates to connection/disconnection.
The first element is the “us/them” mentality. The physical or behavioral differences between disabled and TABs have been given a vast amount of significance that creates the two distinct groups. The artificial boundary promotes disconnect.
Then society fleshes out the us and them distinction with perceived implications such as abilities, limitations, potential accomplishments, and estimations of worth. No longer is it simply people who can see and people who cannot see. It is people who are independent and people who need help. More disconnect.
Societal structure and function also plays a role. With stair-dominate architecture, wheelchair users cannot easily access buildings and you literally have the physical separation of those who can get inside and those left on the sidewalk. Disconnect.
What about amazing? Even viewing a disabled person in a favorable light because of how they cope with their “situation” fosters lack of connection. It puts the disabled person up on a pedestal to be admired like a Chinese vase or rare bird. Disconnect.
I could probably go on for quite some time about how societal expectations and perceptions of disability foster disconnect, but I shall leave that as an exercise for the student. Rather, I want to think about this from a more positive perspective. Is connection across the us/them gulf possible?
Aside from the obvious solution of ridding ourselves of societal expectations and perceptions of disability – filling in the gulf — I believe there have to be more feasible strategies.
Maybe my pessimistic nature is showing because I can only come up with methods requiring TABs to take action. Unfortunately, history has proven that TABs do not go out of their way not as a conscious choice so much as a factor of priorities and scarce resources like time. Still, what happens if the TAB hangs out on the sidewalk with the wheelchair users who cannot enter a building? Connection.
There have to be ways to erase the disconnect society has created around issues of disability. If you can pull it apart, you can put it back together, right?