My Body Doesn’t Oppress Me, Society Does

My Body Doesn’t Oppress Me, Society Does


STACEY MILBERN: So if you and I go to a building and there’s no ramp typically people think the problem is that we use wheelchairs. Whereas a social model of disability would say the problem is that the building is not accessible. And it doesn’t seem like a radical concept, but it changes the fundamental way we think about disability, and the work that we need to do to include people with disabilities. PATTY BERNE: People often don’t understand ability to be within this kind of context and access to adaptive devices, and where we are located economically. You know when I have my access needs met I’m functionally not disabled, you know? But when places have stairs and everything is built for people that stand so I can’t see anything, and you know, it’s a really dark environment so I can’t see anything… because you know, as you get older your vision changes so now I need a lot of light to see things. An environment like that, of course I’m disabled. STACEY MILBERN: I really like separating out impairment from disability. So impairment as, you know, like physical or neurological manifestation – like what’s real. I have a physical impairment. And then disability is like what society creates as barriers because of the impairment. So like as you’re saying, if we’re in a place where my access needs are getting met then my impairment isn’t so significant. But when it’s not because society doesn’t want to, then that’s the problem. So I think it’s important to really think about disability and the context of what is disabling, like the environment. The last building I worked in it was really cool because it was universally designed, so all the doors had push buttons or they like magically open, you know, as you walk up, or everything is like automatically at my height. And in that place I didn’t need a lot of accommodations. But then in an environment where it’s not universally accessible, where people with disabilities and parents and all types of folks weren’t thought of in the design process, that’s when there’s problems. PATTY BERNE: I’m not saying it’s easy to live with an impairment. It’s not easy to live, you know, when you have like four kids, it’s not easy to live when it’s like 20 degrees outside. And you know, for those of us in the Bay Area, 55 is freezing… but you know. I mean there are times when it’s just not convenient to have a body. But that’s not what oppresses us. What oppresses us is living in a system which disregards us, is violent towards us, essentially wants to subjugate our bodies or kill us. That’s oppressive. My body doesn’t oppress me – my body… my body’s fun! But society – that can be incredibly oppressive. STACEY MILBERN: I think when we focus on a person’s individual impairment or diagnosis, as you said, it kind of like lets society off the hook. It makes all the focus on that individual circumstance, when really ableism and exclusion and violence happen because of systems of oppression. So we know it’s not like an individual person with a disability that’s the issue, but we can look at the way, for example with policing – victims of police violence are 50 percent people with disabilities, if not more. Or if we look at the special education system, it’s not the individual special education student, but we can see how special education becomes continued segregation for so many black and brown students. So when we focus on like the individual impairment, it kind of takes away from that bigger picture. PATTY BERNE: We’re seen as disposable. Because for those of us that are not going to have like a treatment or a cure with our bodies, we kind of fly in the face of this idea of medicine as God. So we’re seen as less than. And you’re awesome! You’re fabulous and you are beautiful! And you’re… how could… the idea that some one would think that you’re less than is just absurd. Yet that’s the framework that we’re in. And it’s incredibly painful. There are always going to be crips. There are always going to be, you know, people in pain – it’s just the nature of being in a body. But the social body we can change! And that’s… I think it requires a power analysis. [Music]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *