Importance of Understanding Disability through an Intersectional Approach

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Awareness of intersectionality is growing around the world and its framework calls for an attention to show how dynamics of inequality are mutually constituted. The term intersectionality was introduced by a legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989), who sought deeper recognition about the experiences of black women in the context of multiple inequality facing them. Certain groups in society faces multiple forms of oppression and layers of inequality that are never the result of a single factor. Moreover, intersectionality describes the invisibility of groups of people within an identified discriminated or disadvantaged group which are still not fully represented. Essentially, when it comes to the quest of equality, one size does not fit all.

Intersectionality has become a prominent research and theoretical paradigm, and scholars are using intersectional lens to examine an increasingly wider range of processes and identities. However, disabilities appear to be an unexplored area in the research of intersectionality, particularly in the discipline of sociology. This is likely the product of the discipline’s general neglect of disability as a category of inequality altogether. However, “disability is considered as one of the factors contributing to the production and reproduction of stratification in its own rights, independently of its class relations” (Jenkins 1991:557).

Disability is defined as “the loss or reduction of function or ability as a consequence of impairment”. (Jenkins1991: 561) People with disabilities are extremely marginalized and often forced to live on the lower rungs of society due to discrimination. The dimensions of poverty and gender intensify this marginalization, making especially women with disabilities who live in poverty the most forgotten and isolated people in the world. In addition to the extreme marginalization, people with disabilities experience discrimination more severely as compared to their non-disabled counterparts.

This essay explores on the study of disability in the context of economy, gender and its relations, social and political lens as they are closely interlinked. It discusses the concept of disability and how disability intersects with gender and poverty separately and together, explaining their intersection and how each of these dimensions worsen the experience felt by the disabled individual of the society; and to examine the consequences of lack of programs and the implications for successful response would be taken into account.

Disability can be conceptualized in a variety of ways, each of which determines how programmes or countries respond to disabled people. Jenkins in his article ‘Disability and Stratification’ studies people with different disability in the UK advanced industrial societies. According to him, there are different aspects of disability such as impairment, the absence or defect of a limb, organ or bodily mechanism, covering a range of physical, mental or sensory impairments, disablement, the loss or reduction of function or ability as a consequence of impairment, and handicap, the disadvantage, constraint or restriction which results from disablement. (Ibid.)

In terms of mental illness, the question of norms or standards are put forward by which mental disability may be measured. Mental handicap constitutes the conventional definition of a person below average intellectual functioning having an IQ below 70 with some form of behavioural problem manifested during the developmental period before adulthood (Jenkins 1991:567). The whole debate about mental handicap not only points to IQ but its behavioural norms which comes from a particular class. People who are not oriented to behave in a particular norm are tend to be seen as outside the class. These categorizations of disability are socially constructed.

The association of disability with class, its causes and consequences are also highlighted by Jenkins in his article ‘Disability and Stratification’. The association of disability with class is in terms of its labour market and participation in the labour market is the identity marker of the people in Britain. In this context, people with impairment or categorised as mentally handicapped have the tendency to take up manual labour jobs in the labour market and this has reproduced a class for them, even though manual jobs are not meant for the disabled. Their disablement has result them to work under manual labour which is often classified as a low paid job.

This has become the evident that people with disabilities are both intergenerationally downwardly mobile with respect to the job they held, and subsequently downwardly mobile during their own lifetimes. (Ibid.,570) Hence, there is a visibility of the concentration of this disability in the lower section i.e. one income group marginalized in the lower rungs of the society. People with disabilities who are not employed in the family has consequences for their kin as it requires economic resource, curtails the employment careers of the parents and most spectacularly affects women’s economic activity than men. Either way, it adversely affects the family income and material well-being due to economic dependence.

This brings to light the issue and the burden of caring. The gendered nature of caregiving is implicitly highlighted by Upali Chakravarti in her article ‘Burden of caring: Families of the disabled in Urban India’. Studies often points out to how women caregivers experience more burden than men. The burden tends to fall on the family and within the family, more specifically the mother. The continuous responsibility even in the absence of formal support networks have many negative consequences including the extrinsic resort such as the suppression of feelings which makes them not want to do it anymore, and the incompetence to take breaks when needed and a poor relation with the disabled, have all extended the burden of caring.

Caregivers also have their own intrinsic resort. Those related to distress include social isolation, a lack of competence and inner strength, feeling unappreciated, and the deterioration of their own health. Thus, disability continues to be seen as a burden which must be borne by the family with fortitude and patience. It is constructed as a situation where ‘suffering is inevitable’. (Chakravarti 2002:362) The intersectional effects of gender and relation compare men and women and it gives a better understanding in the experience of caregiving examining one positive (self-esteem) and one negative (burden) indicator of well-being.

Women with disabilities suffer due to the discrimination generated through the intersection of their gender, poverty and disability. This discrimination generated can be addressed through the ‘twin track approach’ introduced by the committee of Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). With the United Nations CRPD, which has been validated by many countries, deaf people go beyond their nation-state to demand the rights and the entitlements directly from international institutions such as the United Nations. The World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) promotes this action by soliciting for deaf people around the world to know about the CRPD and use it as a supporting tool. The nation, however actually needs to implement the CRPD by creating national laws. Hence, the nation-state plays an extremely important role as it is a guarantee rights and provides a better political economic framework.

In the article ‘Identity formation and Transnational discourses: thinking beyond identity politics’ by Michele Friedner (2013), Deaf people in the USA and other places in the global North use the term deaf-world to refer to the relationships formed as part of culture identity and the social network that exists within the community. However, the nature of this term does not entail any notion of geographical location within itself. Deaf identity through contentious identity politics and a framework of transnational discursive flows does not apply to locally-situated practices of Deaf women in urban India (Friedner 2013:368).

While the concept of deaf-world has been productive for deaf people to describe their networks, and for those working in deaf studies and other disciplines, it is important to recognize the multiplicity and diversity of deaf world; to affirm that there can be more than one deaf world and to acknowledge that deaf world exists in relation to other kinds of worlds. In Michele Friedner (2013) article, women began to mobilise themselves like the Deaf women (Northern identity politics) in India and other parts of the world. For Deaf women in organisation like the Delhi Foundation of Deaf Women (DFDW), the idea of Deaf culture is homogeneous and monolithic regardless of where it is found. In writing about Deaf people, it is important to note the issue of sameness and difference which highlight that spatial closeness can often imply difference and spatial distance, on the other hand imply sameness.

Due to communication barriers and cultural differences, Deaf individuals seek out new forms of kinship that are not confined by space. At the same, they feel a sense of affinity, affiliation and closeness towards other Deaf women (Ibid.,382) Space does not interfere in this matter and the identity of belonging to a Deaf community and culture to surpass all other possibilities for self-identification. For members of the DFDW, ‘being Deaf’ is considered as a pride or a culture identity which they have to embrace, cherish and appreciate and it is not something to be seen as a barrier or a medical impairment that needs to be eradicated.

Impairment has not only become the problem with the disabled but the stigma surrounding particular disabilities are sometimes much worse than the disease that causes disability or the disability itself. ‘They are the problem, not deafness’. (Limaye 2008: 402) In the article written by Ronald Barrett (2009), the stigma around leprosy has worsened the disease of the patient as well and the need for concealment is often adhered to by the people with leprosy. However, there is a need for a ‘rethinking’ of the issue of stigma and this need begins to be considered as a valued condition, allowing people of the same to work together exclusively. While discrimination may play an indispensable role in their lives, they carry on the same goals as other non-disabled people.

The people around the disabled play an indispensable role in how they are seen and treated. In the articles by Jenkins (1991) and Upali Chakravarti (2008), parental stress has been identified as a major effect of the caregivers’ psychological well-being specifically on the role of a mother. Recognition of effective means such as the availability of social support services needs to be facilitated to ease the burden of caregiving. Employment for people with disability in the labour market for Jenkins is a challenging issue as they experience severe economic deprivation and social disadvantages. To acknowledge and ensure their employment rights, the government needs to implement policies such as laws, regulations, schemes, and also institutions to established the development and the well-being of people with disability.

Ronald Barrett (2009) and Friedner (2013) looks at how there is a need for the rethinking of stigma and that people with disability needs to be understood beyond familial and national territorial framework. Therefore, disability cannot be understood in isolation as it is influenced by, and influences, the society, economy, gender and political. To conclude, what is seen from the present scenario is that the problem lies not in the ‘disability’ itself, rather with the lack of accessibility on the part of the ‘disabled’ which often becomes the problem factor in the society.

Cite this paper

Importance of Understanding Disability through an Intersectional Approach. (2021, Apr 08). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/importance-of-understanding-disability-through-an-intersectional-approach/

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