Relationship of Identity to Disability

Relationship of Identity to Disability

What is disability? No single, agreed definition

Better to look at CATEGORIES of disability

Different disabilities affect different people in different ways

Not all disabilities are visible, we could all become disabled

Medical / social models of disability

Shakespeare’s argument against the word ‘disability’ – too linked to negative identity of being ‘disabled’. Thinks we should all use the terms ‘impaired’ / ‘impairment’ instead

Themes for revision include

•The nature of disability as a social phenomenon

•Identities associated with disabilities

•Reasons for differences between those of different abilities/disabilities

•Changes in disability related identities

There is no single definition of disability in use in the UK

Categories of disability – each of which may have an impact on a person’s identity






•Disabling diseases

There are different views of disability WITHIN social groups as well as between them

People with physical and psychological impairments have been represented in many ways by western society over the years – as holy, special, and, in much less respectful ways

Disabilities can affect people in different ways, even when one person has the same type of disability as another

Some disabilities may be hidden or not easy to see

Anyone can have a disability and a disability can occur at any point in a person’s life

Models of disabilitytraditional ‘MEDICAL’ model of disability

Key sociologist – Best

Why ‘medical’?

Who ‘owns’ this model?

What assumptions about disability are being made in this model?

Note the key term ‘labelled’

The more recent ‘SOCIAL’ model of disability

Key sociologist – Oliver

How is this model different?

Who ‘owns’ this model?

Note the key term – ‘social constructions’

Shakespeare (1994) – argues that the ‘label’ of disability is the real problem

•For an individual to be categorised as ‘disabled’ becomes more of a problem to them than the actual disability they experience

Shakespeare suggests we should use the word IMPAIRMENT rather than disability

•Everyone is ‘impaired’ in some way, not everyone would consider themselves to be ‘disabled’, however

•Society should ADAPT – disabled/impaired – everyone should have access to the same benefits and services of society as everyone else

Disability and identity – FOUR KEY CONCEPTS

1.Disability as a SOCIAL CONSTRUCT

2.The disabled identity and INDEPENDENCE

3.The disabled identity and CAPITALISM

4.The disabled identity and LEARNED HELPLESSNESS


Most of the UK population are IMPAIRED in some way – not everyone with and impairment is labelled ‘disabled

‘Disability’ has become linked to ‘problem’, not all impairments create problems

Colour blind? Flat-footed? You have ‘impairments’ society can cope with, you’re not a PROBLEM

Mobility problems? Blind? You have ‘disabilities’ that society may see as a ‘problem’ because it must make adjustments for you


Disabled Identity and INDEPENDENCE

‘Disabled’ people frequently seen as dependent and constantly in need of help

Marsh and Keating (2006) challenge this view and argue that few of us are truly independent. Many of us rely on –


Mobile ‘phones

Fast food


Coloured paper?

Big print? etc

However, the things that help most of us be independent are not seen as negatively as wheelchairs, white sticks, mobility scooters etc

Disabled identity and CAPITALISM

Capitalist society sees WORK as a key source of status, power & IDENTITY

Capitalist society sees the disabled as not part of a ‘healthy’ workforce

Disabled people do NOT make money for capitalists

Disabled people become a ‘burden’ on society

Capitalism gives the disabled a ‘problem’ identity

This is obviously from the MARXIST perspective (Finkelstein – 1980)

Disability and Learned HELPLESSNESS

Disabled people may see their disabilities in terms of the stereotyped ideas of wider society (Watson 1998)

Disabled people ‘accept’ the stereotype and develop identities based on low self-esteem and low self worth (Watson 1998)

Watson was explaining that some disabled people accept the LABEL of disability that becomes a SELF-FULFILLING PROPHECY (a key concept – it’s when we live UP or DOWN to what society expects from the LABEL it has given us)

Self-fulfilling prophecies may lead the disabled to develop an identity of ‘LEARNED HELPLESSNESS’ (depending on other people for help)

Disability and the Mass Media

THREE sociologists – disability in the mass media


Cumberbatch and Negrine


The disabled identity and RESISTANCE
The disabled identity – recent developments

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