“If we do not recognize, comprehend, or even believe that something is unjust, we won’t be able to articulate concerns or understand why those are raised (quote actually on me ;-))”. Advocacy usually starts when issues arise based on misguided perceptions towards certain group(s) (e.g., the medical model of disability). Perhaps as consequence, a social constructive view is established that begins with an individual, embodying an identity that is mutually accepted among activists, in an attempt to change society’s attitude, so that differences may vanish.
Moving towards such a model requires first and foremost integrating everyone. It could be argued in particular people with the point of view that caused the misguided beliefs. For instance, with regards to the ones that largely confined disability to bodily parts or functions and in order to have genuine impact on people with disabilities to make disability an accepted normality, the entire ‘disability business’ needs to be considered. This includes people with disabilities, to give them a voice and to understand and accept their point of view, but also everyone else whose beliefs might be just based on misinformed assumptions.
From an academic point of view, people within the field of disability usually distance themselves from sociological contribution, given that those scholars haven’t paid much attention to the social dimension of disability; mainly focusing on the medical part of the equation. However, disability has largely faced social oppression due to models like the functional or medical one, which in turn is addressed within sociology. They should, therefore, be part of the discussion as well, in particular because debates about marginalized groups, regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, etc. have far too many similarities to be ignored. Even further, some of those oppressed groups may as well have the same objectives as disability activists and may even share some values and beliefs. The latter supporting the argument that identities can stretch much further then within a certain group.
Nonetheless theoretic discussions about issues such as terminology are one side of the medal, though it appears utopian to assume that a unified model (i.e. definition) will ever be established. Overcoming the issue that various parties express different interests and have sometimes even conflicting objectives – including various forms of disability activists – makes it sound reasonable to look beyond the disability right movements to forge a stronger, well-aligned identity.
Language, in general, should be understood as something which is inherently ambiguous. It is not to be said, that a medical or functional model of disability is fundamentally wrong, misguiding, or solely aimed at causing humiliation. Narrowing our view to body parts with the intent of fixing something, can be useful in certain circumstances, but it can also be useful to integrate a more humane view, defining a person as being more than just the ‘assumed’ functional disability (i.e. a broader perspective).
However, the underlying issue is not the appropriateness of a narrower or broader definition but rather society’s attitude towards it. The former pushes the problem onto the individual, which is usually understood as the cause that creates a negative stigma, such as the inability to be a productive member of society because of one’s disability. The latter assumes that productivity can be established if society invests time not in curing the person, but rather improving the environment to allow that individual to fully utilize her/his potential. Thus, I would like to argue that definitions, if they are adjusted to cultural and societal circumstances can be useful if we take them for what they are: conceptualization to attach a financial number, a legal claim, or an argument for needed support – usually creating and supporting a governmental need-based system in Western worlds – but those ‘theories’ won’t give real answers to real questions.
In sum, I argue that we need pluralism for theorizing disability. Mainstream sociologists are not to be neglected, even though we might disregard their paternalistic view. History shows that such a perspective can help to lift barriers and consequently reduce the impact disability might have on a person. Accepting their theoretical framework as a helping hand in the dark, rather than stigmatizing people with disabilities, may therefore be one piece to come to agreeable terms.
The other side of the equation is to accept and understand a social constructivist view on disability considering the environment, cultural and societal circumstances, as determinants of disability. In the end, we should come to terms that don’t disregard either of those points of view and perceive those more like an integrated approach towards an understanding of the nature of disability, towards a non- oppressive approach.