November 21: Disability Rights

This week, we will focus on the transatlantic origins of disability rights movements in the United States, Great Britain, and Germany, as well as the recent transfer of these movements to other countries.  We will also explore the emergence of disability identities and disability pride in the late twentieth century.

Please use the comment function to post two discussion questions about this week’s readings by Thursday at 2 pm.  Focus on intriguing or controversial points in the readings that you think will spark discussion.  Strong discussion questions are open-ended, engage with major points in author(s)’ arguments, and are not factual in nature.

Please also post one of the following:

  • a short description (1-3 sentences) of your “muddiest point,” that is, what important point of the author’s argument did you have trouble grasping
  • your “most interesting connection” for this week’s reading

If you refer to a specific point or quote in one of the readings, please provide the author and page number.



Establishing Disability Rights

  • Susan Schwartzenberg, Becoming Citizens: Family Life and the Politics of Disability (University of Washington Press, 2005), pp. 5-9, 18-27, 35-41, 63-65 (MavSpace)
  • Tom Shakespeare, “The Social Model of Disability,” in The Disability Studies Reader, Third Edition, ed. Lennard J. Davis (Routledge, 2010), pp. 266-273 (MavSpace)
  • Paul Hunt, “The Critical Condition,” in Stigma: The Experience of Disability (Geoffrey Chapman, 1966) (MavSpace)
  • Paul K. Longmore, “Why I Burned My Book,” in Why I Burned My Book and Other Essays about Disability (Temple University Press, 2005), pp. 230-261 (MavSpace)
  • Paul K. Longmore, “The Disability Rights Movement: Activism in the 1970s and Beyond,” in Paul Longmore, Why I Burned My Book and Other Essays on Disability (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003), p. 102-115 (MavSpace)

The Transmission of Disability Rights

  • “Disability Rights, Disability Culture, Disability Studies” (ch. 7) and “German/American Bodies Politic” (ch. 8) in Carol Poore, Disability in Twentieth-Century German Culture, pp. 273-323 (MavSpace)
    ***ch. 7:  Robert, Christopher, Lydia, Jacque, Dalton, and Bryan
    ***ch. 8: Mike, Matthew, Cory, and Jacob
  • Thomas F. Burke, “The European Union and the Diffusion of Disability Rights,” in Transatlantic Policymaking in an Age of Austerity: Diversity and Drift, ed. Martin A. Levin & Martin Shapiro (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 158-176 (MavSpace)

6 Responses to “November 21: Disability Rights”

  1. Dalton Boyd says:

    Question 1: In Longmore’s “The Disability Rights Movement: Activism in the 1970s and Beyond,” talks about the American Disability Rights Movement and how it took hold with other civil rights movements. One of the protests that Longmore discusses is the 504 Sit-in of April 1977. So why was the San Francisco sit-in so successful in getting their message across, when compared to the disability sit-ins of the 1930s? Did they do something different, were they smarter in their actions, or was it just because more people supported them? What factors allowed these disabled San Franciscans to get more support from the community? In comparison, Thomas Burke discussed about the Disability Rights Movement in the European Union and how it took years for it to get hold. So why did it take so long for Europe to pass a disability rights law? Was it because Europeans already had a history of having social rights throughout Europe’s various nations and thus they did not see a need for civil rights, or was it something else?

    Question 2: In Poore’s “Disability Rights, Disability Culture, Disability Studies,” Poore discusses the disability rights movement in Germany. Could Germany’s past history of social welfare set up a sort of base for the disability rights movement in their country? If not, then what factors contributed to this movement’s growth? In this chapter, the disabled in Germany wanted to get rid of specialty schools for the disabled and incorporate them into “regular” schools. Is this the right way to educate the disabled, especially those with mental disorders? How would this integration affect the education of “normal” students? Also, if this inclusion system is the best method to teach the disabled, than why are there still specially designed schools for those with disabilities? Could it be that these specialty schools still exist because they promote a sense of community? Why did some of the German protesters turn violent during this movement, like how Franz Christoph tried to strike Karl Carstens with a crutch, and did American disabled protesters ever turn to violence? If they did turn to violence than why is this not shown by historians and if not then why were Americans different than Germans?

    Muddiest Point: Schwartzberg discusses in her excerpts of Becoming a Citizen that some of the children and families in this book were able to have relative acceptability from neighbors but not those in public. Why does it seem that disabled people, such as those with Down’s syndrome, and their families are more likely to be accepted by their neighbors for being different but had a more difficult time being accepted by the public?

  2. Matthew Speight says:

    1. The Burke piece hints at federal theories on state policy. Burke suggests that regulation or incentive based moves are the ways in which the federal government drives state actions in a system of federalism. Would accessibility become more accepted and more a part of the plan if there were monetary incentives or permit breaks from the local entities? Would cash incentives be enough to make up the cost lost in designing and erecting buildings that are more accessible?
    2. Hunt writes about the idea that people with disabilities serve a particular purpose in society. The purpose is a place where charity and benevolence can be given. If this is true, and I believe it to be true, why is there an institutional situation? Would it not be more beneficial to keep those with disabilities in the public eye to facilitate the need for charity?
    3. The Independent Living Movement discussed by Longmore brings up an interesting social issue. Longmore suggests that there is need to shift from the individual being corrected to the society being reformed. It seems that several authors have suggested that disability is a matter of perspective and this part of the movement seems to focus on perspective. What type of education and social movement is necessary for this movement to be successful? As we approach the 50-year mark of the major Civil Rights movement, can we expect that disability rights will as well need 50 years to be as successful as the civil rights movement?
    4. Longmore’s book burning and struggle confronts the issue of livable wage. How should support and wage earnings be balanced? Is it fair to expect someone living in California or New York to live on the same as Fort Worth? Is this a state support of national issue?

    This is more reflective than anything else, but this semester leaves me with the question: how do I incorporate disability into history?

  3. Cory Wells says:

    One theme that is found in all this week’s readings, to varying degrees, is the tension between the medical and the social models of disability. Tom Shakespeare’s chapter on the strengths and weaknesses of the social model was especially helpful, as it laid out in very basic terms what the key elements of the model are. His conclusion about what the social model IS good for versus what it is NOT good for was also interesting, but I wonder if the social model can be turned on and off at will, depending on the particular goal? It seems to me to be more of an either/or proposition. As Shakespeare himself admits, and as virtually all of the other readings show, it is virtually impossible to disentangle the social aspect of disability from the actual physical impairment.

    Schwartzenberg, Hunt, Longmore’s piece all have the representation of lived experience that I have had in mind each time I have brought it up throughout the semester. I think they are all good examples of why history matters to individuals, without devolving into the historical bogeyman, BIOGRAPHY. Obviously, this is easier to do the closer we get to the present in our research, but are there ways that lived experience can be incorporated less recent histories?

    Another implicit them throughout the readings, although more clearly implied in Hunt and Longmore’s pieces, is the question of who should write particular histories. This is something I’ve wondered about in general for a while now. The benefits of women writing women’s or gender history, Caribbeans writing Caribbean history, Native Americans writing Native American history, etc are obvious. So, I suppose mostly rhetorical questions is: what do white, heterosexual, middle class men have to still offer history?

  4. Robert Caldwell says:

    This week’s readings return to the late 20th century and focus on Disability identify formation, debates on the social model, and the fight for disability rights and self-representation.

    1. In Industrialized countries on both sides of the Atlantic (the U.S., U.K, Germany) the Disability rights movement seems to take off in the mid-1970s. Why then? What was the relationship of the various organizations to each other, to other social movement organizations, and social movements? What kinds of Transatlantic (and international) facets seem obvious but under-emphasized within the readings?

    2. In “Why I Burned My Book,” Paul Longmore argues that “the major obstacles we must overcome are pervasive social prejudice, systemic segregation, and institutionalized discrimination” (231). After Tom Shakespeare concedes the strengths of the social model of disability, he enumerates some examples of the weakness of the social model. Does his critique resonate? Why/not? Is it a refutation of Longmore?

    Muddy Point
    “Disability Rights, Disability Culture, Disability Studies” (p. 287) has a puzzling sentence. “As in the United States, the main opponents of the proposed law in Germany came from the CDU and Free Democratic Party (FDR), which represented various sectors of the business community.” Since the CDU and FDR don’t have perfectly analogous political parties in the United States, I think that this statement meant to say that as in the United States, the main opponents of the proposed law came from mainstream conservative businessmen (in the U.S. centrist Republicans) and neoliberal and right-libertarian businessmen (in the U.S. context, libertarians both in and outside the Republican Party).

  5. Jacque Tinkler says:

    1. In “Disability Rights, Disability Culture, Disability Studies” Poore traces the development of the disability rights movement in Germany from the 1970s to the end of the 20th century and especially the efforts to end segregation of the disabled resulting from the practice of “normalizing” rehabilitation based on the medical model. Especially interesting is her exploration of the attempts to create an alternative and more positive cultural perception of the disabled to engender new norms of inclusion and acceptance. (294) Discuss some of the areas involved and how these efforts have changed the public perception in Germany.
    2. In “The Social Model of Disability,” Tom Shakespeare explores efforts in England of people with disabilities to move away from segregated facilities toward full inclusion in society. The British social model redefines disability in key ways. Discuss the strengths of the British social model and how they have influenced developments in England.

    Muddiest Point: In Paul Hunt’s excellent and insightful chapter “Stigma: The Experience of Disability,” he explores several ways people with disabilities challenge the non-disabled. Hunt shares valuable insights into various thoughts and experiences of people with disabilities and illuminates ways he believes the disabled challenge the attitudes of the non-disabled. However, I had a little trouble following his thinking in the first area he discusses. At times he is rightly advocating that a man’s worth should not depend on his job, wealth and material possessions, and social status. However, he also seems to be saying that even without the love inherent in marriage and family—essentially being alone in the world—disabled people live full and happy lives. There may be some who do, but he did not make the case that this applies to all or even many disabled people. He also states that those who do achieve full and happy lives “devalue other disabled people by implication.” Again, I found this line of thought unclear.

  6. Christopher Malmberg says:

    Tom Shakespeare makes an interesting comment when comparing historical prejudice against disabled people and other groups. He says “There is nothing intrinsically problematic about being female…remove the social discrimination and women…will be able to flourish and participate. But disabled people face both discrimination and intrinsic limitations” (272). After thinking about this idea for awhile I began wondering if it is true. In the past it has been believed that women, for example, do have intrinsic limitations. The discrimination against them included a belief system that thought them unable to do certain things. We now realize that this is ridiculous. Is it not the same for disabled people? Could it be possible that in our current frame of mind we see both societies discrimination and intrinsic limitations, but in the future with a change in society we will see that the “intrinsic limitations” were just another form of discrimination?

    Paul Hunt’s piece on the experience of disability was great; however, it seems he is really only taking into account people with physical disabilities. He mentions other forms, but always sets them apart from himself and the disabled community. This is somewhat echoed in Shakespeare’s piece as well. In past weeks it seems like a disability hierarchy had been created from outside disability, but in reading Hunt it seems that disabled people also add to this hierarchy, wherein those with physical disabilities are not associated with people with mental disabilities? Longmore makes an excellent point about this happening because of fighting for limited resources; however, could it be more than this? Could it be that physically disabled people do not want to be associated with people with mental disabilities, and therefore are part of the problem in regards to discrimination as well?

    Longmore brings up that a large part of the fight for disability rights, especially in the Independent Living Movement, was that disabled people be part of the decision makers in regards to things that directly effect them. This got me wondering about Hunts comment that only disabled people should do things like disability studies because only disabled people know what it is like to be disabled. It seems to me that a disabled person that cannot walk can share no further insight into the experience of being blind then I can. How beneficial is it to take this type of stance, and who is the “us” and “we” that Hunt refers to near the end of his piece? I am not sure I agree with Hunt that only disabled people can really understand the experience of being disabled. Disability, as Longmore points out at the end of his piece, is everywhere and is experienced by everyone at one point or another. With disability being such a umbrella term I do not think it is possible for every disabled person to “know” what it is like for every other disabled person. This is why I really liked Shakespeare’s critique of the social model.

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