Quote: Not a lack

It seems difficult for nondisabled people to write about disability without reflexively imagining what disabled people are missing or how difficult their lives must be. Rod Michalko, a sociologist who is blind, writes that sighted people typically conceive of “blindness in terms of ‘lack’-lack of sight. But this conception does not really help us understand what blindness itself is. It does not generate any curiosity about what blind people ‘see,’ since it defines reality in terms of the physical sense of sight …. Sighted people seldom question these preconceptions.” Stephen Kuusisto, a blind writer, tells of the expressions of pity he encounters so often on the street: “I want to take strangers by the hand and tell them there is no abyss.” Similarly, deaf people are relentlessly depicted in popular film as pining away their days regretting their inability to enjoy music (usually classical music, which one would think from these movies has a central place in most American households).

– Douglas Baynton, Review: Laura Bridgman and the History of Disability, Source: Reviews in American History, Vol. 30, No. 2 (Jun., 2002), pp. 227-235.

7 thoughts on “Quote: Not a lack

  1. The perception that a disability = lack is just another manifestation of the fact that temporarily abled people assume that their status as temporarily abled is the default and that everyone else must automatically want to be the way they are. Such a view leaves no room for accepting oneself as a whole, non-lacking individual.

  2. This is an interesting quote to go along with the one from yesterday regarding deafness and disabled identity.

    Similarly, deaf people are relentlessly depicted in popular film as pining away their days regretting their inability to enjoy music

    LOL and this is ALWAYS the comment people make to me about my deafness! “I would just DIE if I didn’t have music, how can you stand it?!” Well, I’ve never really had music, so how can I be concerned about the lack of it in my life?

    (One of my SOs is a musician and I have wished that I could experience his music more fully, but I have also wondered in general at the sound of my SOs’ voices, despite never worrying/caring otherwise that I don’t know what people sound like.)

  3. Of course, what abled people don’t realize, is that people who are blind or deaf either have never known anything else, or have learned alternative techniques when they became blind or deaf later in life. Like what is said in the injury vs. disability post, the only way abled people can imagine disability, is by termporarily experiencing a physical experience they consider essential to that disability. In blindness (and maybe also deafness), this is usually achieved through faking, ie. someone closes their eyes and assumes that’s what blindness is like. They don’t learn alternative techniques that utilize their other senses. They just lack eyesight (for a very short while), and imagine they know what it’s like to be blind. They don’t.

  4. I’m trying to see my disability in terms of being a help rather than a hindrance. In some ways it is. In a manic state, at least in the beginning stages, I am super productive, very charming, very much in tune with the world in ways that a shy, introverted person is not most of the time. But quickly that energy and enthusiasm becomes deranged and delusional and this is when I have to be hospitalized.

    Depression could never be explained as helpful, no matter how one spins it out.

    Some people romanticize their illness, particularly bipolar disorder, but I refuse to do so. It might make me more creative than the average person, but I’d rather be well. I’d rather not cycle. I’d rather not have to take medication. I’d rather not have to focus so much energy and attention on keeping myself level and stable.

  5. I don’t see any part of it as a help.

    But it’s not “a lack” (well, technically I am lacking my thyroid and parathyroids), it’s more a difference that changes how I interact with the world.

    And like Astrid said, like the post on injuries vs disabilities demonstrates – we don’t think of this over the long term. How I feel when X first happens (unless you are born with something) is not how I feel a year, a month down the line. It’s here, adjust and get on with your life.

  6. Augh, by “adjust and get on with your life,” I don’t mean “pull those bootstrings! (What do mean you don’t have feet?)” And I don’t mean adjust right away and be happy about it all the time – some of the times you have to adjust to depression as well.

    It’s more directed at TAB way of thinking, my way of thinking about disabilities I don’t have (If I were deaf… I couldn’t do this…) not a command for people.

  7. There was an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent that portrayed characters who couldn’t hear as proud of being deaf and having full and active lives, not pining away their inability to hear music. It starred deaf actors, and also touched on the controversy about cochlear implants. I can’t speak for the accuracy of the Deaf culture portrayed, but it was nice to see it portrayed at all.

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