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Amelia's picture

Thoughts on culture and disability

After last week’s discussion, I started to think about what I consider the definition of disability how we were using it in class. To me, a disorder is not something that is intrinsically“less good” but instead something that hampers someone’s ability to participate in a society as a whole. While we were saying that we see people with autism as“less good”, we label it a disorder because they are unable to participate in the dominant culture, not because their ways of communicating are less good. In that sense, the man in the story “in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king” was suffering from a disability in terms of what society he was in. He could have adapted to their way of life and been able to function in the community even if he still had his eyes. In that community however as it was, having eyes was a disability since he was not able to participate and (maybe?) to do so successfully he had to lose eyes.

I think the line that needs to be drawn between a difference and a disability is when the person, for physical or social reasons, is no longer able to take care of themselves. Severely autistic people, for example, are usually unable to take care of their own daily needs.  Perhaps the autism spectrum needs to be re-evaluated to separate those who simply participate in society with a different view point and different way from those who seem completely isolated from society.

Someone made a comment on Tuesday that maybe what is needed for everyone to function best is for us all to be in our own societies. While I’m not sure if the person truly meant this, if this were to happen there would be no culture and no society, just isolated individuals. We need culture to survive and all are making some adaptations to participate to our utmost ability in the one that we live in.

I also believe that the dominant culture has a responsibility to not ‘correct’ someone with autism (or other disorders) but to let them reach their highest ability of functioning in the society while adapting to their uniqueness and needs.  Many children with autism are now given typewriters, or picture books where they can point to what they need or want, in an attempt to communicate with the dominant culture. While it might be best for us all to just understand them as they are, as of now we are not yet there and these are huge steps being made by the dominant culture to adapt for the minority.

I feel like people were arguing that we aren’t making adaptations for people with autism, but I see  such attempts to give them the most opportunities to reach their highest ‘functioning’ within the society. Also, many people who work with autistic individuals are aware of things that bother them (such as being touched) and avoid doing so. This is an example of an adaptation made by the ‘dominants’ to the minority.

Furthermore, in terms of schools and having special classrooms to help ‘disordered children to reach baseline’ (in which I think it is more of an attempt to have everyone reach their highest potential), we must remember that gifted children are also given extra support and I see this as an example of this attempt. While the main classroom may work for the baseline students, extra classes are needed for those either above or below baseline not to make them baseline, but to have them reach their potential.

WhileI could go on about my thoughts on culture and disability, I’ll just make one more point about evolution. An argument was made that previous cultures viewed females as a ‘disorder’ as our current culture now views autistic individuals. My problem with this argument is that it doesn’t agree with evolution. Females were, and are, necessary for the propagation of the species, while autism and other social disorders is not ‘needed’. While maybe they are the ‘next step’ on the evolutionary tree, at the moment they have not showed an evolutionarily adaptive trait to let them eventually reproduce at a greater success that our culture without autism. In fact, severely autistic people in general (of course this is a generalization) do not reproduce because of their inability to participate in the culture. With this as the case, they will not be the next step from ‘females’ in terms of what is seen as a disorder to later be necessary. While I think that having people with different ways of communicating and thinking is good to have in a society, it is not necessary for the continuation of humans like females are. Without this need, it cannot be seen as adaptive. 



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