Why are people distracted


“We are not born disabled, we are made disabled” - this slogan of the disability movement is simple but true. The modification of the Simone de Beauvoir classic, with which she summed up the sociality of gender, could be a simple insight, and yet in the case of disability it seems surprising at first glance: Disability is a manifest property of bodies, a lack. If an arm or leg is missing, nerve cords are paralyzed, then there is nothing socially made, and the missing eyesight cannot be deconstructed, one could say.

But the sentence would only be correct if the person were just a body and there would be no thinking and talking about bodies. There is more to “being handicapped” than the physical “defect”, “being handicapped” includes a cultural tradition of attributions, stereotypes and compassionate, despising and even eliminatory practices. “Being handicapped” also includes the categories of civil law, which divides the body into handicapped or non-handicapped, person or non-person, woman or man, German or non-German. The competitive relationship between individuals, within which bodies have to prove themselves in bourgeois society, also flows into the concept.

So ideological thinking and talking about disability is a construction similar to sexism, racism, antiziganism, homophobia, etc., not a mere form of discrimination, but at the same time a way of thinking that permanently refers to normativity as well as producing normativity.

Therefore, the conventional (German) term for this form of thinking is inadequate: “Disability hostility” describes just one facet of this thinking that by no means always comes across as “hostility”. It is more complicated: the practices of dealing with people marked as disabled can often be perceived as particularly friendly by those involved. As a rule, “the disabled cannot help their handicap” - they are pitiful victims of their bodies and one has to show pity for a victim. At least that's what bourgeois morality wants. The images of disability on which this approach is based, on the other hand, are not always friendly, but at best ambivalent. We'll talk about why later.

Reduction to the body

The determination must therefore begin earlier than with the diagnosis of “hostility” as one of many observable reactions to disability. The phenomenon is located where the other forms of thinking about the body also have their roots: in essentialization, that is, in judging the essence of people on the basis of their physicality. Biologism can be called the roof of such reductions, which people judge, for example, according to their gender, their skin color or their disability. It is not so much the assignment to a group itself (which is precarious because the boundaries between these groups are always fluid), but rather the images and evaluations attached to it. The fact that women like children, men park well and black people are musical - all these supposed observations have nothing to do with the individual, but are sortings that the individual initially confronts independently of himself / herself.

If you are part of this sorted and constructed group, you could theoretically ignore these ideas - but in practice they have far-reaching consequences. The individuals stand as representatives for the category by which they are measured. They are judged with the "knowledge" that is about "their own kind" in the world. Whether a person is considered "disabled" is decided on the basis of his or her abilities - with a very flexible limit as to when the abilities are still classified as "not disabled".

Ability as a boundary marker

The ability is therefore also the linchpin of essentializing thinking about disability. Whether someone can or cannot do something is the starting point not only for revaluation and devaluation, but sometimes also for a more comprehensive assessment: For example, “disabled people” always do things in their lives either “because of” or “despite” their disability.

Therefore, Ableism is also the more appropriate term for the reduction of people to their - non / disabled - body. Ability means ability and ability the one-sided focus on physical and mental abilities of a person and their essentializing judgment and judgment, depending on the extent of their abilities. The fact that the abilities that do not meet the norm usually get off badly was taken into account by the word creators who come from the English-speaking disability movement. Nevertheless, Ableism affects everyone, including those who meet or even surpass the norm. The fact that someone is often suspected of being extremely nice, smart and charming because of their appearance that is found to be attractive is basically just as "ableist" as the assumption that small people are particularly funny and clownish or blind people are musical and by nature equipped with a top ear. Ableism can reduce all people to their physicality. The practical consequences, however, will be far more unpleasant and exclusionary for those assessed as deficient.

Because having been classified as disabled in Germany usually results in exclusion from the majority society.

Consequences of the judgment "disabled"

Severely disabled people still often live in homes (including young people with disabilities who involuntarily live in old people's homes), although with assistance it would also be possible to live in their own apartment. People in wheelchairs or with walking or sensory disabilities are excluded from many parts of public life due to inaccessible buildings, non-barrier-free public transport or non-barrier-free communication. Many pupils with disabilities in Germany are referred to special schools, boarding schools or special school classes. Vocational training is also partly completed in special institutions such as vocational training centers or is completely canceled. Students with disabilities are still the exception. Employers who try it with a disabled person are rare and the vast majority of people with learning difficulties (or intellectual disabilities) end up in the workshop for disabled people and are thus excluded from the regular labor market. The judgments of not being efficient enough, of being too slow, of having conditions that are too special are central when one looks at where disabled people live and work or which relationships they can enter into.

A norm is already included in the definition of disability, the demands of which make physical impairment a “disability” in the first place. In civil law, disability has been measured for a number of years in terms of the “condition typical of age”: “People are disabled if their physical function, mental ability or mental health are more than likely to deviate from the condition typical for their age for more than six months and therefore their participation in life in society is impaired ”(Social Code IX, § 2, 1). Exactly what the “typical state” is is not explained in more detail, but it is stated that the deviation from it is particularly relevant in terms of function and capabilities. The earlier reduction in earning capacity, which until a few years ago was a measure of disability, was even clearer. The ability to work - for centuries this has determined whether a person is considered disabled or not, long before the euphemism "disability" was invented in the post-war period and when the lame, deaf-mute and crippled were even more specifically mentioned. “Invalidity” was the more honest variant of a term for disability in a society in which the value of a person is determined by his ability to work - “invalid” means “worthless” or “invalid”.

Somewhat closer to a non-ideological definition of disability is surprisingly the World Health Organization, in whose canon since 2001 disability has been divided into damage (e.g. blindness), impairment (you can't just go out if you don't know your way around) and participation restrictions (One is excluded by the lack of guidance systems for the blind). Other definitions go even further and speak of social role expectations that impaired people cannot fulfill and are only hindered as a result. A good example of this is wearing glasses: Without glasses, people with severe ametropia can sometimes be severely impaired, but one can hardly speak of a disability in their case: glasses are a completely normal and very common aid that compensates for the impairment and is highly accepted socially, even respected. It looks different with a facial disfigurement, for example due to a skin disease. Functionally it may hardly affect it, socially it may lead to blatant exclusion, and thus in fact to a disability.

Disability is hardly a biological fact in itself, but rather the interplay between the body and social norms and expectations produces it in the first place.

Expectation of Sovereignty in Civil Society And these expectations are quite merciless in civil society. Bourgeois individuals are expected to be able and willing to utilize themselves. Maintenance by others is only socially acceptable for children, old people and people in need of care. Everyone else is expected to use their intact mind and body as a commodity of labor in the marketplace.[1] The minimum standard that their bodies have to adhere to is high: they have to be able to conclude contracts, for example, whether as sellers of labor or as buyers of goods. Citizens who are fully active should regulate their reproduction themselves, be able to eat themselves, wash and dress themselves, go to the toilet alone, be mobile. They should be able to speak, hear and see and adhere to communication rules. Autonomy, self-control and sovereignty are expected from bourgeois individuals. Only with this sovereignty are they able to compete for jobs, wages and recognition from the bourgeois world.

The very idea that they could lose this minimum equipment one day creates fear in most people. Suffering pain, being dependent or not being able to be mobile will hardly be desired by people, regardless of the society in which they live. And it is precisely in this society, with its individualized way of dealing with the problems of the alternations in life, that disability and illness can only appear as unplanned and unmanageable incidents.[2] In the bourgeois world, such body scenarios create a particularly far-reaching horror, a horror, especially for those who have fully embraced the standards of competition: After all, it is the body on which one builds one's existence, through its Attractiveness brings recognition and in which, through its productive potential, for example building houses or giving birth and fathering children, that belonging to society is manifested.

Projection screen disability

In general, there is no reason why disabled people cannot be just as bourgeois individuals as people who are not considered disabled - and they are too. They have the same rights, and with personal assistance, the necessary financial resources, bridged barriers, etc., they can do much of what non-disabled citizens can do. Nevertheless, most disabled people are far from being included in society as a matter of course. Even more: no matter how much they participate in it, for the bourgeois world they remain a projection surface for fears of dependence and loss of sovereignty. They are not only the non-normative foil against the background of which the subject, understood as non-disabled, can always reassure himself of his precarious normality. They are also a symbol of the impossibility of participating in the competition of the bourgeois world. These fears become particularly clear in bioethical discourses, in which every handicap of a child must be avoided at all costs and the prospect of need for care in old age makes the desire for euthanasia arouse. The fears also become visible in the communication between disabled and non-disabled people. Disabled people often experience dealing with them as cramped, as an ambivalent mixture of ignoring the disability or overemphasizing it. Disabled people experience compassion and disdain, as well as exaggerated admiration for things that are taken for granted. They experience that people prefer to talk to their company rather than themselves, that people like to talk about them rather than with them. They experience that people gladly and often offer them help, sometimes unsolicited and intrusive, and that if they refuse help, they sometimes have to be prepared to be aggressively offended. You have to expect to be approached by complete strangers about your illness or disability and should understand their amazed enthusiasm for so much "joie de vivre" as a compliment. A side effect of such patronizing, patronizing treatment of disabled people or the non-respect of their privacy is the denial of their subject status.

Socially generated suffering

The core of this approach is the assumption that disability can mean nothing but suffering. And that if people obviously do not suffer from their disabilities, they must have a special character. The fact that disability can mean suffering is no longer fundamentally downplayed in the emancipatory disability movement, as it was in its early days in the 1980s, in favor of a purely social model of disability. Nevertheless, the consensus remains: it is the circumstances that contribute to the suffering. The body without society is unthinkable, pain and dependence also have something to do with the situation of care, financial resources and the medical sector. But word of this does not really want to get around. In the eyes of the majority, people with disabilities are still “naturally poor”. A stereotype that causes guilt especially in those who see themselves as not disabled. There is deep fear of doing something wrong with those who have been “disadvantaged by nature”. And that they might complain to the “beneficiaries of nature” about their disadvantage. Because the bourgeois world cannot keep its promise of equal opportunities for disabled people per se. This confuses and gives rise to insecurities, a need for fairness and the desire, for example, to make everything right again, to create a kind of justice, through, for example, forced help. Often, however, those who trigger insecurity are avoided from the outset - and their exclusion is thereby cemented.

Open defense, degradation and discrimination against disabled people, on the other hand, has more to do with a form of paradoxical envy. On the one hand, one feels sorry for the disabled, but on the other hand, many of the standards of bourgeois society do not seem to be applied to them. While the permanent demand for creating value, for discipline and self-control is made on all non-disabled people, while the healthy have to go to the armed forces or have to deal with their ticking biological clock and the social pressure of motherhood, none of this often applies to disabled people quite so inexorable. In an almost audacious way, they seem to be able to evade bourgeois competition with all its hardships: If they cannot take care of themselves, get support, other benchmarks apply to them, then because they cannot help it. The need for fairness and justice turns into anger at the supposed, undeserved benefits of an impaired body. And the anger also insists on equal opportunities - "why does everyone have to make an effort, only they don't?"

The ranting about disabled parking spaces and job quotas for the severely disabled shows not only the ignorance of all the disadvantages that disability brings with it and that such measures are intended to compensate. It also shows the severity with which the bourgeois world attacks everyone, including those to whom it attributes full usability.


Rebecca Maskos: What does Ableism mean? Disability and Civil Society Considerations.

Appeared in arranca! No. 43, online at: http://arranca.org/43/was-heisst-ableism

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Status: May 19, 2016