Disabilities: Forms of a Fair Kind Among Us


Photo of Eugene Roberts, marathon runner


What do I believe? I believe that disabilities are a fiction. Only the physical body with its boils and fevers, its losses and displacements is real. Accordingly I believe that every day, everywhere, people with disabilities must negotiate two dynamics: the literal materiality of physical systems, and (far worse) the figurative errors of hyper-semiotic “normate” culture–a culture addicted to a heavily marketed and entirely false idea of physical perfection. Whether we’re talking about the fashion industry or the worship of spectator sports–Hollywood heroes or telegenic politicians–we’re talking about the public’s idealization of bodies and body types, an idealization that marks all deviations with stigma.

By today’s standards Jean Harlow would be too fat for the movies. Clark Gable wouldn’t pass his screen test. The “normate” culture believes in the emperor’s new clothes. It thinks you’re lacking in all value if you wear a size 6 dress. God help you if you have a birth mark, crooked teeth, a bump in your nose, or you’re pigeon toed. 

What do I believe? I believe that people with disabilities have a certain inner balance, a richness and clarity of their own natures. I believe that people with disabilities possess inherently beautiful forms for all form is composed of lines and planes, twists, colors, diverse arrangements. And all the better.

The interior lives of people with disabilities are harmonious with the diversity of nature itself. These things I believe. I believe the soul needs nothing added to it to be beautiful. I believe all figures of creation are beautiful. I am rooted in this. I find I cannot be moved.

What do I believe? I believe Peter Singer doesn’t know enough about art. I believe that wounded warriors are only measured by the spread of our welcoming arms. I believe that one day we will look on the age of Hollywood and Milan and Madison Avenue and cluck our tongues at the slavishness of conformity and the simplicity of taste and habits that ruled these times. I’m not saying this revolution is coming tomorrow.

What do I believe? I believe in the beauty of aging. Like Ficino I believe the body is subject to time and time is beautiful. I am rooted in this. I find I cannot be moved.

What do I believe?

Art can deceive us and it can save us.



0 thoughts on “Disabilities: Forms of a Fair Kind Among Us

  1. OK, well, you’ve said it once, and you’ve said it twice. If you say it thrice than it must be true.
    However, older adults can also go bonkers over the rehab philosophy that everything is fixable if… Most people by the time they’re old and gnarly know far better than that. One day long ago, I told myself to do less talking and more listening in my work — assume that perhaps at least some of these people perhaps were once young genius whiz kids out to change the world just like myself, and, maybe, just maybe, have gotten even wiser with age. My clients have journeyed around the sun many more times than me, and so perhaps if I let them, they’d tell me a thing or two. They did, and I’m a much better rehab specialist for it. Now, it’s their ballgame 100%. All I do is provide a supportive context for them to explore their abilities and options. Some dive in with great enthusiam to all the tech and gizmos, and some can give me absolutely valid, rational reasons for having nothing to do with all of our alleged solutions, even when they would have no financial constraints in obtaining technology. Regardless, their decisions are respected and honored in my office, because it’s their life.
    SK, we agree on more issues than we disagree (basketball excepted). The most important thing is that we both have a deep respect for the people with whom we interact. Beyond that, there’s probably a fair amount of wiggle room for disagreement every now and again.


  2. Leslie B: I repeat (for such is my metier) that the social construction of normalcy and the subborning of disability as a secondary category of human experience are societal ideas, abstractions, and are essentially the products of Victorian eugenics, and the creation of statistical profiling. I don’t think disability exists. I do think that illness, physical ailments, and obstacles associated with same are entirely real and depend on anti-hysterical thinking for their solutions. No one who is over 65 and who is losing his or her hearing should be consigned to a life withoutappropriate assistive technologies and proper medical treatments. Currently people who are over retirement age can’t get AT because they arent’ in the work force anymore. I”m against this. I want to see the expansion of cutting edge technologies for people with disbilites of all ages. But I do think that disabilityh as a pejorative and symbolic assignmet of crappy status is a Victorian hangover and worth resisting. I don’t agree with you that I’m sentimentalizing pwds by saying they have an inner balance. I think allpwds know something about being embodied and some have access to education and the right skills to tell others what they know and others do not. I am in no way creating a noble savage. But I understand your suspicions. I really do.


  3. SK, you write, “I believe that disabilities are a fiction.” But are you ready to support the dissolution of systems of disability insurance and medic-aid programs for people with supposedly non-existant “disabilities”?
    You write, “I believe that people with disabilities have a certain inner balance.” I believe that when I see pwds that I’ve never met before approaching me on the sidewalk, I have no idea for sure who they are until I speak with them, and learn about their beliefs and lives.” I give them credit for their potential to be the next Charles Manson or Mahatma Gandhi, same as the folks around them. I wonder if you’re not counter-mythologizing. That either achieves a balance in some regard, or presents no real truth anywhere that anyone can credibly believe. It puts pwds in the same class as the white man’s myth of the noble savage.
    I probably talk to more people over 90 years in a week than most people do in a year. For most, aging really is not the problem for them, but the higher incidence of disabilities is very much a problem, and they get pretty ticked off about it, remarking sarcastically, “Ah, the golden years!” Between that, and the fact that friends and loved ones are dropping like flies around them, they can be a rankled bunch.
    I get ticked off when I realize that I can’t hear people whisper anymore because of an increasing hearing impairment. I can usually work around it. Ah, the seniors that I usually work with and I just yell back and forth at one another, and are happy as clams. But this Saturday as proctor’s assistant to a bunch of teenagers in a test situation with Perkins braillers pounding away, I was up poop creek without a paddle contenting myself with other duties, but wishing I could understand a simple whisper!


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