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Response 2

mertc's picture

The next day in class after reading McDermott and Varenne’s ‘Culture as Disability,’ the class was asked to line up across the classroom to show how strongly they agreed with a statement. One corner was declared the corner for those that strongly agree and the other was for those that strongly disagree. The statement was to the affect of ‘disability only exists because of culture.’ The class moved over to strongly agree. Those closer to the middle wavered tentatively. For me, it isn’t obvious.

            While reading this text there were several points in my own education and experiences that struck out as correlated to the theories presented. When I was in 11th grade my teacher took my class on a week long trip to a school and community for children and adults with severe special needs that prevented them from being able to function safely and with purpose in the outside world. Upon arrival we were separated into different houses and me and another girl from my class moved into a house with about a dozen other 11th graders who all had special needs, a house mother, and two German nineteen-year-old guys serving their required community service in the U.S. Our first morning at breakfast time the girl I was with began to cry silently at an overwhelming scene in the kitchen. Most of our housemates couldn’t speak and a boy threw his bowl down angrily setting off the rest of his peers. My friend was scared, not knowing how to communicate with these people who couldn’t speak in a language she could understand. In this community she was the disabled one, disabled by our sheltered school that had not exposed us to people who broke the cookie-cutter mould. The house mother tended to the boy and the students were able to leave the house and feel independent  as they walked to school alone even if it was on the same grounds that they lived. After school the students had chores that contributed to their household and community. Tasks could be making dinner, gardening, cleaning up their space, working in their local general store etc. Part of the campus housed children from the age of kindergarten to 12th grade and the second campus housed adults. In this culture that had been developed in this small space disability ceased to exist. By the end of the week I found myself conversing with a boy who flapped his arms and moaned unable to talk. We had found a way to communicate and I forgot how scary I might have found his actions  on my first day. This experience in high school would cause me to stand in the corner of the classroom with the students who strongly agreed that disability only exists because of culture except for one little glitch. Although this community tried to self sustain themselves agriculturally, the parents and family members of the people who lived here had to pay a lot of money for their loved ones to be cared for and learn to care for themselves. Therefore the idea of disability disappearing in this community was only able to be sustained as long as there was a society outside of it that produced the money to pay for it. This also brings up the issue of class, as working class families wouldn’t have access to this idyllic space for their own loved ones.

            Another part of the text that spoke to me was reading about ‘The Deprivation Approach.’ When I first came to my private school in 5th grade, I was asked to complete a number of what seemed like nonsensical tasks. I walked down a balance beam, read out sentences etc, but I was also asked to write what I would do with a million dollars. However, being a creative child I started my story off by describing the day on which I found a million dollars and the excitement that came with that. By the time the counsellor conducting these experiments called ‘time’ I was describing the sun moving through the clouds and hadn’t come close to writing what I would actually do with the money. That part didn’t excite me as I was more interested in showing off my creative-writing. I failed the task. In that instance the school was concerned with my disability to comprehend and answer a simple question but I had understood the question. I was just dismissing the method they expected me to go by and was coming up with the answer by what I saw as my strength. I still don’t know if I was in the wrong for that.