Logging on to Dao’s FB group can be a reminder that we are living in a regressive period where Disability Politics is concerned. It can often feel as though the Social Model understanding of our lives as disabled people has taken several steps backwards.
The Dao FB group has grown to nearly 3,700 members, increasingly attracting individuals from every corner of the globe. It’s an open forum with an increasing number of posts, linking to journals and blogs that present a dilemma in advocating stories of ‘overcoming’ disability or ‘normalising’ disability.
Two recent examples, Beyond Disability and The Department of Ability represent some of the flotsam attracted to the group to promote stories about ‘triumphing over tragedy’ and being a ‘super-crip’ who just likes to have fun.
These people are well-meaning with good intentions. They are often non-disabled people who have a close relationship to disabled people. Personally I am fed up to the back teeth of being moulded in the image of someone who has triumphed over adversity. Is the expectation that you can be ‘more than’, any less oppressive than the expectation that you are ‘less than’?
Both extremes (pathetic victim/ supercrip) are all pervasive disability stereotypes that deserve, and need to be challenged. In his thesis ‘Does anybody like being disabled?’ Dr Colin Cameron quotes Charles Riley (2005): “the sadcrip/supercrip are two sides of the same coin, signifying impairment as a tragedy that needs to be overcome.”
Cameron goes on to say that “While the narratives of pathetic victim and plucky struggler appear superficially to be doing different things they are part of a single discourse identifying impairment as tragedy.”
The point is that impairment is ordinary, not special. Dealing with the difficulties that having an impairment brings is enough without having to negotiate a world which shuts you out by judging against definitions of what is ‘normal’.
I loved the work for DaDaFest exhibition, Niet Normaal that Andrew Tunney made with Laurence Clark a few years back. Super-Crip lampoons the image of the disabled hero confronting the ridiculousness of being so special with his power to switch impairment at will, playing on the stereotype that the loss of one sense, means the heightening of other senses.