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gammyflink's picture

Reimagining Disability

As someone who has traveled to many countries studying their cultures, I am pleased that you have raised the issue of cultural relativism.  It is critical for all of us to recognize that we perceive and judge according to our own background.  In addition to the examples you provided, I can attest to the fact that people with seizures often take on the role of a revered shamman, particularly in Latin American countries where the seizure activity is viewed as a trancelike state in which the person has extraordinary powers.

However, I don't think we should ascribe ulterior motives to the parents or physicians in the case of Lakshmi.  This is not just a matter of appearance.  The following quote is from the article you referenced:
The complications for Lakshmi’s surgery are myriad: The two spines are merged, she has four kidneys, entangled nerves, two stomach cavities and two chest cavities. She cannot stand up or walk.
Not being in class, I don't know how much time you have spent on the issue of cosmetic surgery which has become a major problem as plastic surgical techniques have evolved.  It is distressing how many women buy into the cultural fallacy that an outward youthful appearance is THE gold standard of beauty.
About 25 years ago I was asked to participate in in a Brown University Medical School panel about Disability and Sexuality.  This was because I have an ileostomy, and I was surprised that it was even considered a disability since for me it had been a lifesaver.  However, there was a consensus among the medical interns and residents in the audience that this was considered a greater disability than that of the other panelists who were people with paralyzed limbs, a double mastectomy, cerebral palsy, and total blindness.  I was pleased to challenge their perceptions but amazed at their negative attitudes towards bodily function.
I'm not sure if or how this fits into what you are learning in your class on disability.  I rarely have time to respond, but I do read your thoughts and they are enlightening and energizing.   Thank you.

   Barbara  '57


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