Saturday, July 17, 2010

"Disabled" relationships with "Typical" People?

While doing research for my Systematic Theology paper on the image of God and "differability", I looked at a book by two professors/counselors. There is a section in one of the chapters on "Accepting Relationships" about the sociological perspective on "how individuals and groups commonly referred to as deviant come to be accepted into a society or a community." An accepting relationship is defined as: "a relationship between a person with a deviant attribute...and a 'non-disabled' person, which is long-standing and characterized by closeness and affection and in which the deviant attribute, or 'disability', does not have a stigmatizing, or morally discrediting, character in the eyes of the 'non-disabled' person." Accepting relationships are not based on a denial of the 'disability' or difference, but on the absence of impugning the 'disabled' person's moral character because of the 'disability'.

In this book, people are defined as either "typical" or "people with severe disabilities". The authors question what draws "typical" people into relationships with "disabled people" and what motivates them to form close relationships. These relationships are then broken down into categories:

1. families who decide to keep their children at home or foster and adoptive families
2. volunteers and citizen advocates who become involved in the lives of people with 'disabilities' long-term
3. staff members who go beyond their role to form personal relationships with the people they serve

The authors claim that "four major orientations can be distinguished" based on the sentiments held by the "typical" person towards the person with the "disability". These sentiments were determined by expressions/reactions to questioning and interviewers seeming to assume that the relationship is abnormal.

Why are sentiments the other way around not considered? As if the 'typical' person somehow has more to say about the relationship or their opinion of the relationship is of more value?

The four categories that emerged included: family relationships binding people together; religious commitment or "calling" as underlying motivation for forming relationship...with the "disability" being the reason for forming the relationship; humanitarian concern, particularly staff with clients; and feelings of friendship.

In regards to the religious commitment, the relationship is said to not always be an expression of charity, but a commitment to those who have suffered or been wounded. As if there are not others who have suffered or been wounded? As if we, the "disabled", need YOU, the "typical", because you assume we are suffering and wounded?

My "favorite" part was "feelings of friendship". "Here the relationship is described not in terms of abstract values --- family, religious, humanitarian --- but in terms of liking and enjoying the company of the person with a 'disability'."

They claim that friendships between 'disabled' and 'non disabled' people are typically rooted in other kinds of relationships. The other relationships described above, they claim, often turn into friendship. It is never assumed, however, that the relationship just starts at friendship.

"Becoming friends with a ('disabled') person is a process in which the person essentially becomes 'delabeled'. While the 'disability' or label may be prominent in the eyes of the other person during the initial stages of the relationship, that aspect of the 'disabled person' becomes less salient over time." Apparently only those 'typical' people who fit the other categories above are capable of engaging in this process.

They also say that "people who describe themselves as friends of ('disabled') people often point to what they have in common" and "focus on their positive qualities". Excuse my mouth for a second, but no s*** Sherlock. Why should that be any different than other friendships? We, the 'disabled' also become friends with you, the so-called 'typical' person based on what we have in common and your positive qualities. Why would we become friends with you otherwise?

I will have to give some thought to what categories would emerge if a "disabled" person defined all this....


Gail said...

Wow, Emily, thank you for this thought-provoking post! I wonder what the authors would think of the fact that research shows that 70% of the population has some sort of "invisible" disability like chronic pain, mental health issues or in my case, organ transplantation. Who exactly are the "typical" people to whom they are refering?

Emily said...

I know, right? There's one thing I was reading for my paper that uses something that I think made it a weak argument, but the author was basically trying to say that EVERYONE has something they can't in that way, everyone is "disabled"...

I discovered, too, that I took out both the first and third edition of this book from the library, so I'll have to see if anything they say is different between the two and edit this entry....

Brendan Payne said...

Wow. Isn't that "typical"?

It reminds me of a true story: An Afro-American woman befriends with some Euro-American women and one day talks about her struggle with racial identity. "Oh, we don't think of you as Black," said one of the Euro-American women. "We just think of you as normal." The other Euro-Americans nodded sympathetically.

I hope - hope - that the book was meant to expose prejudices. Yet the word choice is not encouraging. Em, I'd encourage you to write up a creative essay satirizing the approach of those profs/counselors by taking "normal/typical" to mean differability, and others as "deviant". It's fun, and when not overdone, provides a creative way to channel the anger and turning it into something absurd and laughable.

Emily said...

Brendan, I have written something like that before, actually. It WAS fun! :-) Maybe I'll have to go for another one...