Capitalism and Impairments

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  • 1. Capitalism and the social oppression of people with impairments Bob Williams-Findlay Disability Equality & Human Rights Trainer
  • 2.  
  • 3. The Birth of the Disabled People’s Movement
    • The late 1960s saw May ’68, the rise of both the Civil Rights and Women’s Movements
    • The Independent Living Movement grew out of the US Disability Rights Movement , which began in the early 1970s. The IL Movement works at replacing the special education and rehabilitation experts’ concepts of integration, normalization and rehabilitation with a new paradigm developed by disabled people themselves.
  • 4. The Birth of the Disabled People’s Movement
    • The Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation was founded in 1972 and disbanded in 1990. It nevertheless lay the basis for the UK Movement
    • It was started by Paul Hunt when he wrote a letter to the Guardian inviting disabled people to join with him to form a group to tackle disability.
  • 5. The Birth of the Disabled People’s Movement
    • UPIAS became the first disability liberation group in the UK, and one of the first in the world, and certainly the most advanced in the world.
    • What it had to offer disabled people was an analysis of disability - fairly basic, but an analysis of disability in which they presented a new concept. They presented disability as a social relationship in which disabled people were oppressed. And in doing this they were overturning the concept of disability as basically a biologically determined condition.
  • 6. Over the years many disabled people have campaigned for “justice”, “equal rights” and “ an end to discrimination”.
  • 7. What is meant by ‘Disability’?
    • The 1970s saw some disabled people question why they were placed in ‘special places’ and viewed as ‘burdens on society’
    • They argued that the way people viewed ‘disability’ had led to the exclusion and segregation of those with significant impairments.
  • 8. What is meant by ‘Disability’?
    • Disabled activists and academics began to develop a historical materialist analysis of people with impairments’ social relationships within given societies.
    • Thus the meanings given to ‘disability’ are “historically specific”.
  • 9. Historical Background
    • Once upon a time ‘disability’ was seen as an ‘act of God’ – a punishment for the parents or the person’s ‘sin’ in this or a former life.
    • Just prior to the Industrial Revolution the focus shifted from spiritual to physical well-being and this finally resulted in the development of a medical classification system under capitalism.
  • 10. Historical Background
    • By the middle of the nineteenth century British society had felt the impact of the Industrial Revolution. The harsh realities it produced created economic and social upheavals which brought about, in turn, moral panics around the fear of illness, disease and depravity. Social reformers sought to replace chaos with control - contours around what was considered ‘normal’ were drawn and those groups thought to be polluting society - outside ‘normality’ - were withdrawn from the public gaze.
  • 11. Historical Background
    • The increased usage of institutionalisation, the birth of the eugenics movement and the proliferation of charities contributed towards ‘cleansing’ society of its mad and hapless cripples. Non-conformity was unacceptable and those people deemed incapable of keeping standards associated with ‘normal activities’ - productive and reproductive - had to be ‘taken care of’ in more senses than one.
  • 12. Historical Background
    • The First World War cemented the view that ‘disability’ was a “personal tragedy” – based on the notion that the loss of bodily function also means a break with ‘able-bodied normality’
    • Hence, the less a person functions like a ‘normal person’, the more disabled they were ‘adjudged’ to be
  • 13. Models of Disability
    • Individual model (sometimes called ‘the Medical Model’) – tends to view “disability” as either a personal tragedy or a failure to be “normal”
    • Social model – sees ‘disability’ as the negative outcome resulting from systems, structures and attitudes within society (i.e. disabling barriers)
  • 14. Models of Disability
    • Individual Model of Disability legitimises how capitalist society socially constructs and creates disability.
    • Social construction around dominant ideologies such as individualism and normality
    • Social creation – the systematic failure to address disabling barriers and institutional discrimination e.g. exploitative social relations in the labour market
  • 15. Individual Model of Disability The Disabled Person “ Can’t…” walk, talk, see, hear, work, climb stairs, read written info, speak, etc. Is passive or dependant “ confined” to a wheelchair, “ housebound”, etc. Is a burden needs care, help, services; takes and doesn’t give… Is sick or ill waiting for a cure, confusion between illness and disability Object of pity or sorrow recipient of charity, has “special” needs which don’t get met by mainstream services or funding, etc.
  • 16. Disability as Tragedy
    • If a wheelchair user is unable to access a building because it has steps – the reason is their inability to walk
    • If a Deaf person is unable to follow a conversation – the reason is their inability to hear
    • If a person with learning difficulties gets lost – the reason is their lack of ability to understand directions
  • 17. Disability as Tragedy
    • The model sees disability as being the degree to which a person fails to conform to the expected and accepted ‘norms’ linked to daily functional activities
    • Disability is located ‘within’ the individual and therefore ‘blames’ their impairment for any social disadvantage they encounter
  • 18. Disability as Tragedy
    • Maintains that ‘disability’ should be cured through medicine and treatment. But what are the implications of this approach if the person’s situation cannot be altered this way?
    • Leads to actions to “end the ‘suffering’” or placing disabled people into ‘special’ provisions due to their ‘special’ needs
  • 19. Disability as Tragedy
    • Individual model of disability maintains the view is that disabled people need to fit into society. It justifies a cycle of exclusion and dependency due to common attitudes and prejudices as well as inappropriate practices.
  • 20. Consequences
    • Disabled people have faced segregation, isolation, invisibility & discrimination
    • Location of the ‘problem’ within the individual – “a person with a disability”
    • Created institutional discrimination
  • 21. Definitions
    • The ICIDH was replaced in 2001 by the International Classification on Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) which, attempts to look at the impact of the environment, both physical and attitudinal, in disabling people living with impairments.
  • 22. Social Model Definitions of Disability
    • Impairment: an injury, illness or inherited condition that causes or likely to cause a loss or difference in the way the body and mind works.
    • Disability: the loss or limitation of opportunities to take part in the general life of the community on an equal level with others due to physical and social barriers.
  • 23. The Social Model of Disability
    • Within this model disability is seen as a socially created issue. An individual with an impairment will not be disabled by society , if their social environment acknowledges, removes or reduces the disabling barriers they encounter. This includes accepting their impairment and the social consequences of living with an impairment.
  • 24. Social Model
    • The social model offers an alternative understanding of disability
    • Disability is viewed as the outcome of ‘negative interactions’ that takes place between the impaired individual and their social environment – each side, (the impairment / environment) has an influence on the ‘interactions’
  • 25. Social Model
    • We refer to ‘negative interactions’ as being the cause of disabling barriers at the micro level of society.
    • Disabling barriers can be:
      • negative attitudes towards disabled people
      • policies, practices and customs
      • the natural or built environment
  • 26. Social Model of Disability The Disabling World Inaccessible physical environments including buildings, transport, poor design, etc. Information not in accessible formats e.g. plain language, Braille, tape, large print, disk, accessible website, etc. Communication barriers e.g. few sign language Interpreters, no induction (hearing) loops or alternatives to telephones, assuming everyone communicates in the same way Prejudice e.g. attitudes, stereotyping, assumptions, etc. Discrimination e.g. inflexible or unfair systems in organisations
  • 27. Social Model
    • If a wheelchair user is unable to access a building because it has steps – the reason is the failure to provide a ramp or lift
    • If a Deaf person is unable to follow a conversation – the reason is the non-consideration of their communication needs
    • If a person with learning difficulties gets lost – the reason is the fact the directions they were given clearly didn’t meet their needs
  • 28. The Politics of Disability
    • The social model sees disability as being imposed on top of people who have impairments. Disability is viewed as the oppressive social relationships people with impairments experience. People with impairments are disabled by the structures, attitudes and culture found in specific societies.
  • 29. The Politics of Disability
    • Therefore:
    • “ For me disabled people are defined in terms of three criteria;
    • (i) they have an impairment;
    • (ii) they experience oppression as a
    • consequence; and
    • (iii) they identify themselves as a disabled
    • person.”
  • 30. The Politics of Disability
    • U sing the generic term does not mean that I do not recognise differences in experience within the group but that in exploring this we should start from the ways oppression differentially im pacts on different groups of people rather than with differences in experience among individuals with different impairments.
    • Mike Oliver from Capitalism, disability and ideology: A materialist critique
    • of the Normalization principle (1999)
  • 31.
    • Disability Terminology
    • The term “people with disabilities” generally
    • refers to people with impairments who are
    • viewed as having the “inability to perform
    • ‘ normal’ tasks” (sic). It is an oppressive social
    • construct.
    • Disabled people are seen as people with
    • characteristics or impairments that lead to them
    • being disabled by the way society is organised. It
    • is political identity for the Disabled People’s
    • Movement.
  • 32. The Politics of Disability
    • Through the British Council of Disabled People
    • (BCODP) and the Independent Living
    • Movement the self-organisation of disabled people
    • gathered pace during the 1980s.
    • It was the same year as a “Rights Not Charity”
    • march took place. Private Members’ Bills
    • seeking legislation came and went. Research
    • commissioned by BCODP on the nature of
    • discrimination in Britain and acted as a turning point.
  • 33.  
  • 34. The Politics of Disability
    • Both MPs and the public began to take more
    • notice and in 1992 a new umbrella
    • organisation, Rights Now was established to
    • promote a Civil Rights bill. The outrage at
    • the first defeat of this bill, forced the
    • Government to produce its own legislation
    • which became the Disability Discrimination
    • Act 1995.
  • 35.  
  • 36. The Politics of Disability
    • The passing of the DDA did lead to a
    • surge in awareness about “disability
    • discrimination” among those who came
    • to know about the Act’s existence,
    • however, the nature of the Act itself
    • made it unlikely to impact on the
    • structures of society where institutional
    • discrimination takes place.
  • 37. The Politics of Disability
    • Demos reported:
    • “ ....despite all the apparent progress that has been made since the original BCODP report was launched, the underlying reality is that disabled people continue to face the same barriers that they have always faced and that ‘disablism remains rife throughout Britain’.”
  • 38. The Politics of Disability
    • The Labour Party under Smith were
    • listening to disabled people and agreed
    • to bring in new social model based
    • legislation when elected. This changed
    • under Blair:
      • Token changes – tinkered with DDA
      • Ignored disabled people’s groups
      • Launched witch hunt against disabled people on benefits via Purnell and Freud
  • 39. The Politics of Disability
    • I would argue New Labour helped to demobilize the Disabled People’s Movement – a social movement.
    • The Movement became fractured, de-politicized and isolated – not too unlike the Left!
  • 40. The Politics of Disability
    • Many of the policies adopted by the
    • CONDEM Government originate with New
    • Labour = Freud, an ex-merchant banker,
    • swapping sides to become a Lord and
    • lead the attack. The attack is simply
    • starker and more hard hitting than
    • Labour planned. It is about restructuring
    • the State not the myth of “UK Debt”.
  • 41.  
  • 42. The Cuts and Disabled People
    • Using Tory press to stigmatise disabled people in a style similar to the Nazis
    • Forcing disabled people who are also ill to enter a labour market that discriminates against them – suicides have already occurred.
    • The cuts in “social care” and the
    • restructuring of NHS will leave many ‘at
    • risk’.
  • 43.  
  • 44. The Cuts and Disabled People
    • The welfare reform will remove a quarter of disabled claimants out of benefits altogether and make it harder to claim.
    • Will individualise and medicalise the assessment process – ESA, PIP, etc
    • Housing Benefit and ILF changes will lead to institutional rather than independent living
  • 45.  
  • 46. The Cuts and Disabled People
    • CONDEM cuts attack disabled people’s human rights and violate UN Convention on Rights of Disabled Persons
    • Disabled People Against Cuts is the radical voice of disabled people from within the old Disabled People’s Movement
  • 47.  
  • 48. Talking about the Left
    • The Left’s understanding of the politics of disability is extremely poor
    • Ernest Mandel one of the few non-disabled Marxists to even engage with the issue
    • Many of the Left’s theories, policies and practices exclude disabled people and are therefore, albeit unintentionally, colluding in the social oppression of disabled people
  • 49.
    • Disabled people are part of the anti-capitalist struggle –
    • Nothing About Us, Without Us!