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The Right Not to Work: Power and Disability

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  1. hungariantoast
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    The only thing impaired people have in common is their political disablement and the economic, behavioral, and emotional similarities that impairment can cause. Disability, partly as a result of this intense differentiation of those people affected, may be the only branch of the civil rights movement that cannot be appropriated. Disabled people are an example of a movement and identity whose image and capabilities are infinitely various. This variety, however, is what makes us so difficult to incorporate into the modern corporate environment; what changes will need to be made for us, what adaptations, what special accommodations, what costs will be incurred, and what profits diminished?

    Disability theorists make this clear by making a subtle but significant distinction between disability and impairment. The state of being mentally or physically challenged is what they term being impaired; with impairment comes personal challenges and drawbacks in terms of mental processes and physical mobility. To be impaired is to be missing a limb or born with a birth defect; it is a state of embodiment. Being impaired is hard. Without a doubt, it makes things harder than if one is not impaired. However, more often than not, the individual accommodates for this impairment and adapts to the best of their ability. For example, I am impaired by arthrogryposis, which limits the use of my arms, but I make up for this in many ways by using my mouth.

    Disability, in contrast, is the political and social repression of impaired people. This is accomplished by making them economically and socially isolated. Disabled people have limited housing options, are socially and culturally ostracized, and have very few career opportunities. The disabled community argues that these disadvantages are thus not due to impairment by its nature, but due to a cultural aversion to impairment, a lack of productive opportunity in the current economy for disabled people, and the multi-billion dollar industry that houses and “cares” for the disabled population that has developed as a consequence of this economic disenfranchisement. This argument is known as the social model of disability. Disablement is a political state and not a personal one and thus needs to be addressed as a civil rights issue.