Journal Watch – 5 September 2016

I am currently doing a Future Learn course hosted by UNSW and had to recently read an article about IT and Disability and thought I would share it with you. It is a few years old (2008) but some of the information is still very interesting and relevant today. Ed.

Title: Innovation and Disability

Authors: Gerard Goggin

Journal: M/C journal: A journal of media and culture. Vol 11, No 3.

 Critique of Ability

In July 2008, we could be on the eve of an enormously important shift in disability in Australia. One sign of change is the entry into force on 3 May 2008 of the United Nations convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which will now be adopted by the Rudd Labor government. Through this, and other proposed measures, the Rudd government has indicated its desire for a seachange in the area of disability.

Bill Shorten MP, the new Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services has been at pains to underline his commitment to a rights-based approach to disability. In this inaugural speech to Parliament, Senator Shorten declared:

I believe the challenge for government is not to fit people with disabilities around programs but for programs to fit the lives, needs and ambitions of people with disabilities. The challenge for all of us is to abolish once and for all the second-class status that too often accompanies Australians living with disabilities. (Shorten, “Address in reply”; see also Shorten, ”Speaking up”)

Yet if we listen to the voices of people with disability, we face fundamental issues of justice, democracy, equality and how we understand the deepest aspects of ourselves and our community. This is a situation that remains dire and palpably unjust, as many people with disabilities have attested. Elsewhere I have argued (Goggin and Newell) that disability constitutes a systemic form of exclusion and othering tantamount to a “social apartheid” . While there have been improvements and small gains since then, the system that reigns in Australia is still fundamentally oppressive.

Nonetheless, I would suggest that through the rise of the many stranded movements of disability, the demographic, economic and social changes concerning impairment, we are seeing significant changes in how we understand impairment and ability (Barnes, Oliver and Barton; Goggin and Newell, Disability in Australia; Snyder, Brueggemann, and Garland-Thomson; Shakespeare; Stiker).

There is now considerable, if still incomplete, recognition of disability as a category that is constituted through social, cultural, and political logics, as well as through complex facets of impairment, bodies (Corker and Shakespeare), experiences, discourses (Fulcher), and modes of materiality and subjectivity (Butler), identity and government (Tremain). Also there is growing awareness of the imbrication of disability and other categories such as sex and gender (Fine and Asch; Thomas), race, age, culture, class and distribution of wealth (Carrier; Cole; Davis, Bending over Backwards, and Enforcing Normalcy; Oliver; Rosenblum and Travis), ecology and war (Bourke; Gerber; Muir). There are rich and wide-ranging debates that offer fundamental challenges to the suffocating grip of the dominant biomedical model of disability (that conceives disability as individual deficit — for early critiques see: Borsay; Walker), as well as the still influential and important (if at times limiting) social model of disability (Oliver; Barnes and Mercer; Shakespeare). All in all,there have been many efforts to transform the social and political relations of disability.

If disability has been subject to considerable examination, there has not yet been an extended, concomitant critique of ability. Nor have we witnessed a thoroughgoing recognition of unmarked, yet powerful operations of ability in our lives and thought, and the potential implications of challenging these. Certainly there have been important attempts to reframe the relationship between “ability” and “disability” (for example, see Jones and Mark). And we are all familiar with the mocking response to some neologisms that seek to capture this, such as the awkward yet pointed “differently-abled.” Despite such efforts we lack still a profound critique of ability, an exploration of “able”, the topic that this special issue invites us to consider. If we think of the impact and significance of “whiteness”, as a way to open up space for how to critically think about and change concepts of race; or of “masculinity” as a project for thinking about gender and sexuality — we can see that this interrogation of the unmarked category of “able” and “ability” is much needed (for one such attempt, see White).

In this paper I would like to make a small contribution to such a critique of ability, by considering what the concept of innovation and its contemporary rhetorics have to offer for reframing disability. Innovation is an important discourse in contemporary life. It offers interesting possibilities for rethinking ability — and indeed disability. And it is this relatively unexplored prospect that this paper seeks to explore.

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