Disability: a Critical Analysis

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In our society, presently, persons’ with disabilities as a whole are often stigmatized as broken or useless (Michalko, 2002). This is no different for women with disabilities, as strong cultural assumptions for this population have been formed. These assumptions are formed due to attitudes and beliefs, especially focusing on body image, religion and language (Charlton, 1998). In general, women in our society are already oppressed, for example women make less money in the workforce then do men (Katz, 1996). Therefore, looking at what cultural assumptions, stereotypes and commonly held attitude exist about women with disabilities and demonstrating the role of social systems and institutions in supporting these beliefs will be the focus of this essay. One of the ways that disability has unique implications for this group is body image. Body image is emphasized in our society and certainly plays a role in how women with disabilities are perceived (Charlton, 1998). People with disabilities are often set apart and identified by their bodies and there appearances, as disabilities are often physically noticeable (Charlton, 1998). In Western culture these physical difference are considered deformation, whereas in other cultures this is perceived differently, for example in Africa a facial scar is seen as a badge of honour (Devlieger, 1995). Therefore culture plays a role in the forming of attitudes and beliefs in regards to persons’ with disabilities. Beauty, in our culture, is defined by how society produces and markets image. In commercials, for example, the bodies which are selling the products are beautiful ones (Charlton, 1998). The implications of the present image of a disabled body include it’s ugliness and abnormality, which leads to the powerful myth that persons’ with disabilities are asexual (Charlton, 1998). This myth is powerful because it reinforces the paternalism that consigns people with disabilities to a permanent status as children (Charlton, 1998). As described in Charlton’s Chapter on culture and belief systems “Patrenalism lies at the center of the oppression of people with disabilities”, and begins with the notion of superiority. Charlton also states that “Disability itself is the embodiement of repulsive images of the body, certainly a body no one would want to have sex with”. It is very difficult for women with disabilities to fight this notion that has been formed, the notion that no one would want to marry them or have chidren with them in fear that they could not be sufficient wiv es due to their restrictions and that they may prduce disabled children (Reinikainen, 2008). Ideas of a disabled woman’s unsuitability for motherhood, for example, refer to the assumption that disability means helplessness and inability, but also to the necessity of physical normality as a requirement for motherhood (Reinikainen, 2008). This is also demonstrated in the medical field where women who are disabled have expressed that the doctors were angry with them for being pregnant (Reinikainen, 2008). This notion is challenged in the readings of Michalko where it is demonstrated that person’ with disability can do everything non disables persons’ can do just in a different manner (Michalko, 2002).

The Mass Media is one social institution which is heavily involved in supporting the continuous belief that disabled bodies are not as beautiful as non disabled bodies. In films and television the disabled characters are always depicted as self-pitying, mal-adjusted and ugly (Charlton, 1998). In challenging this, a number of North American Activists and the DRM have begun their own critiques and analyses, and much important work has been done. However, until the mass media broadens the depiction of sexuality, family and personal lives this will continue to opress persons’ with disabilities (Charlton, 1998). Language also plays a role in the mass media, as the terms used to describe people with disabilties is...
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