#4 Who Is Afraid Of Disability?

The UN adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in December 2006. However, it was not until this year, April 2016 that the Netherlands ratified the agreement. Ten years after the UN accepted the CRPD, the Dutch government decided to give a person with a disability the legislation to act whilst being protected by law. Accessibility, ‘reasonable’ accommodation, the right to education and access to justice are part of the convention. Parties to the Convention are required to promote, protect, and ensure the full enjoyment of human rights by persons with disabilities. What is it about these rights that caused us to omit them for ten years? Is our society so nested in the notion of a maakbare samenleving, the Dutch term for the idea that government policies can create the perfect society, where everything is possible as long as you work hard enough, that people with disabilities simply have to overcome those boundaries themselves? Or are we afraid of disability and as a result, disregard it?  

The more we believe that we can control our bodies, the greater the anxiety that is generated by the ‘evidence’ of vulnerability becomes. This is an anxiety that is deeply embedded in our idea of the stability of the self (Shildrick, 2000). Disabled bodies seem to carry that vulnerability, and are therefore read as visible proof that the self is unstable, and can be ‘unhealthy’. As Shildrick explains, “the shock is not that of the unknown or unfamiliar, but rather that in the encounter with the disabled body, that vulnerability is projected onto the other, who must then be avoided for fear of contamination” (224).

Some theorists in the field of Disability Studies propose that we are all Temporarily Able Bodied (TAB), a concept which refers to the notion that at some point in almost everybody’s life, illness will become a lived reality. By undermining the binary between healthy/unhealthy and abled/disabled bodies, proponents of the term TAB also address the anxiety and fear surrounding disability. Disability activists are critical of this concept, claiming that it negates the needs and differences of disabled bodies. At this intersection, we ask ourselves, what happens if ‘the healthy body’ is no longer the norm to hold onto? What does it mean if we accept that we are all Temporarily Able Bodied and how does this affect our perception of beauty and difference? How can other assumptions about disability be propelled beyond normative judgement? We ask ourselves, who is afraid of disability?

#4 Who Is Afraid Of Disability?

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