Disability Communities (Plural)

Title in white bold letters: Disability Communities (Plural) on background of overlapping colored circles

Note: I am just about bursting with thoughts and feelings about the death / hibernation of the effort to repeal Obamacare, but it'll take me at least a few days to write something coherent. So, I'm going ahead with this mostly off-topic post I already have teed up.


Most of my disability thinking lately has been about politics and activism within the disability community. And one of the starting points for my thinking about this is a growing realization that there is actually more than one "Disability Community."

This is not an original idea. Plenty of people have observed before that there are different sub-groups of disabled people. Some are defined by the type of disabilities they have, some by age, or which generation they represent, others by overlapping cultural, political, religious, or gender identities. In terms of philosophy, the most frequently cited distinction is between the Medical Model and Social Model of explaining and approaching disability. This is well covered territory.

I would like to suggest another way of subdividing the broader disability community. It's similar to the medical and social models, but instead of two categories, I want to propose five. I am talking about people with the same variety of disabilities, facing basically the same menu of problems and barriers, but whose different approaches to them make them sortable into a handful of distinct "disability communities."

Here is my list ... still a bit sketchy:

Activists ... Disabled people who not only practice activism, but view it as central to their idea of disability in society.

"Activists" believe that the key to a better life for disabled people is to make fundamental changes in disability policy. But activism is more than a means to specific ends. For activists, it is also an outlook that structures their understanding of themselves and their disabilities.

Culturalists ... Disabled people who are interested in the social meanings and interpersonal dynamics of disability.

Culturalists view disability as an identity that can be studied, ignored or represented, disparaged or promoted, despised or appreciated. Their deepest interest is in solidifying disability as a respected and appreciated social identity, a culture, and a community ... with internal pride and external recognition.

Bootstrappers ... Disabled people who focus on proving their worth by achieving traditional markers of social and economic success.

These typically include a quality education, career success, financial independence, family, and the material components of a middle class lifestyle. Bootstrappers seek these things not only to cement their independence, but to earn a kind of approval that they hope will outshine their disabilities.

Assimilators ... Disabled people who view their disabilities as unimportant inconveniences, and strive to be viewed as normal or ordinary by the mainstream, non-disabled community.

This is never quite as simple as disability denial. It's more of a craving or preference for normalcy, even anonymity. It is also the mindset of the many disabled people who have no deep interest in the disability experience, and view disability exclusively in practical terms.

Cure Questers ... Disabled people who primarily view disability as a medical condition or disease to be cured, fixed, or overcome.

They may or may not be well adjusted to their disabilities in the everyday sense, but either way, their higher commitment is to eliminating disabilities, for themselves and / or for others.

Which of these communities do you feel like you belong to? Do these categories make sense? Have I missed one?

Very few of us exist in only one of these communities, though most of us probably favor one or two pretty clearly over the others. In my next post I plan to add some details and examples to each description. I'll also get out my drawing and charting tools, and experiment with some Venn Diagrams to explore how our various disability communities overlap.