It’s easy but dangerous to confuse social facts with social ideas. Disability for instance is a societal arrangement driven by medicine and when physically arrested humans can’t be cured they become an idea—one might say an idee fix. I’m asked all the time if there’s a better term for disability and my response is to say the disabled should be called “citizens” for this marks the problem with the confusion named above. All physical differences are merely notional. Turn this on its head so to speak and you discover the steepness of disability is no more probable than other notoriously social ideas—childhood comes to mind—before the Enlightenment children were nonexistent.
I’ve recently been traveling to places where disabled children are not customarily included in the mainstream. They are kept apart which means they will have conditional citizenship. They are branded as non-productive which is again the confusion of social fact with idea. One is forced to ask why there’s so little imagination going around—the idee fix is one great big muscle of confusion. Part of the problem is that in much of the world childhood is believed to be a matter of prospect. The child is a unit of probable production and so probability enters the idee fix—disability is presumed to be devoid of growth. its chilling when you see it.
What can we do about the broad confusion of disability and insignificance? This is a grass roots question.
ABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.
(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger