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Gary Murning

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Do the media, charities and disability rights activists—however unintentionally—present a damaging view of what it is to be "disabled"?

I'm very interested in the problems surrounding "disability identity". There are a couple of reasons this.

Firstly, I have been physically "disabled" since birth and have pretty much always had difficulty identifying with the various "models" of disability presented to me. The "them and us" mentality, the central divisiveness of the attitudes of some (whether they be "able-bodied" or "disabled"), have concerned me for many years.

Also, it interests me from a creative point of view. I'm a novelist and with my next project I hope to explore in more detail the various myths and fallacies surrounding the notion of identity—with special attention on "disability".

One of my main areas of focus for this piece of work will be the danger of good intentions—how, in fighting for the rights of certain individuals, we marginalise and, in some cases, stigmatise those involved.

This is intended as a broad, open question. Please feel free to explore and develop as you wish.

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  • Dec 3 2012: Yes, this is another form of the "us" and "them" division. It seems that humans will use even the most trivial differences to make this division. Disability is a real difference, and it is not trivial.

    If we want to help people who need help, we necessarily must make a choice of who to help. This divides people into two groups, those who need help and those who do not. Many people will view this division as "us" and "them".

    I think that anytime "the disabled" are distinguished from "the able", this will do some amount of harm. It will always trigger our natural inclination to identify "us" and "them". It will also trigger our natural judgment facility, and we will think that it is much better to be able than to be disabled. Even if we think we know better, these thoughts are inevitable, even if they remain unconscious.

    Another problem with "disabled" is that it contains too little information. People of all levels of disability are grouped together. It groups people who can do nothing for themselves with people who cannot open a pickle jar. That would be laughable if it were not so harmful.

    If there is any solution to this, I think it is the attitude that everyone needs help. Or perhaps, that we all need to cooperate with each other. A person that looks for any form of help is, in a sense, disabled. He is not able to fulfill his desires without some cooperation from others. Even a hug requires cooperation. It is a simple fact that we all need the cooperation of others to fulfill our desires. How to apply this attitude with respect to our institutions is a tough task.

    In daily life, many people already have this attitude. I have witnessed a person in a wheel chair hold a door open for someone who had their hands full of packages. We are all on a spectrum from least fortunate to most fortunate. Your place on that spectrum is largely due to luck, and it can change in a moment.

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