- Category: Disability
- Published on Friday, 30 August 2013
- Written by Oliver WIlson
While the left as a whole continues to take positive strides towards taking liberation and identity politics seriously (of course sometimes met with resistance), disability politics can often be found to be lagging behind. Some organisations on the far left seemingly fail to see disability even as a form of oppression. As a result they offer minimal, or sometimes even no support at all to some of the hardest hit in society. Involvement of disability activists in left campaigns and socialist organisations is often very low; but is it any wonder that disability activists do not necessarily see the working class as the agent for their liberation, when the left so often ignores their struggles?
Disability activists can often find themselves tide purely to direct action groups, such as Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) or Direct Action Network (DAN), as well as alternative parliamentarian groups such as the Green Party. These groups appear to offer a way to win improvements for disabled people’s lives, and this is often thought to be the best we can hope for. The reforms won by disabled people can substantially improve the living conditions of individuals, but are very quickly dismantled during times of crisis as we are now experiencing. This is why disabled activists must go further and fight for their full emancipation, and ultimately the end of disability.
It is of course ridiculous to suggest that the restructuring of society would prevent someone with Down syndrome or cystic fibrosis (both are genetic conditions) having these impairments. I would argue that the absence of impairments is not the same as the end of disability. Capitalism is a system that sets individuals against others in competition for food, medicine, housing and technology. It is this competition – caused by the need to accumulate profit – that ultimately causes disability. When we are forced to fight for our right to a secure life, it is those who the system is unable to freely accommodate that are deemed less productive, less capable and ultimately of less value. It is this relationship, between an individual’s impairment and these social barriers, that causes disability. Our aim as disability activists and revolutionaries is to remove these disabling barriers.
To see this relationship between impairment and disability we can look back historically to hunter-gatherer societies. An individual who has dyslexia, which, for some individuals, affects purely their ability to read and write, will feel little or no effect of the condition in a hunter-gatherer society. Yet an individual with dyslexia will be set at a notable disadvantage by capitalist society, due to lack of support in education or the workplace. Under capitalism we can draw clear distinctions between how class and financial background clearly alter the way disability is experienced. The effects of money-power can change every aspect of a disabled person’s life, from convenience to life expectancy. For example, with muscular dystrophy access to a customised, better and more expensive wheelchair can improve life expectancy. But this care is not something available to everyone. Money allows access to better healthcare, adapted homes, adapted cars and the ability to avoid public transport and many other social barriers.
It is therefore possible to envisage a society where all impairments do not result in social barriers which prevent a right to healthcare, a social life, a sex life and the chance to produce creatively. Many impairments experienced by humans will be quickly eradicated by the prioritising of our needs and the removal of the centrality of profit accumulation. Other impairments will take a sustained and conscious effort of focusing our resources towards developing medication and assistive technology which will provide the freedom for disabled that every human should have the right to.
Rather than seeing disability as an inevitable evil and feeling sorry for those who experience it, we should see it as experiencing social barriers which disabled people are faced with. This gives room for a progressive and proud outlook on disability to emerge. Disability is not something we just need to overcome or else risk failure to integrate into society; it is a central part of our being that society fails to accommodate for, and because of this we need to fight for our rights to a productive life. To do this we must overcome the patronising approach to disability we are taught and take pride in the variation of our impairments and fight for what we need.
This approach to disability allows us to view disability as a form of institutionalised oppression, similar to racism, sexism, homophobia or transphobia. Therefore it can be abolished by the end of capitalism and the restructuring of society to prioritise human need instead of the constant drive for profit.