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One has to feel sorry for these poor non-disabled folk, you know. They just can't help being patronizing, oppressive and stupid. If it's not because they were born like that,

then it's just because they've never had the same opportunities in life as we have. They've swallowed without a moment of critical reflection the dominant social and cultural discourses on disability which portray us as tragic, deficient and inferior. How empty and shallow would be their lives if they didn't have us to care for, to pity, to organise, to train, to cure, to rehabilitate, to raise money for, to remind them that within a society in which social divisions and social exclusion (appearing as the consequence of natural individual characteristics) are structurally inbuilt 'there's always somebody worse off than themselves.' They need us.

The practice of 'the caring professionals' is built upon a body of theoretical knowledge rooted within the medical model of disability which identifies disability as personal tragedy. However nice and pleasant, concerned and well-meaning workers within the disability industry are, then, they can't help but get it wrong. Unfortunately, while they are recognised as the experts, their values and assumptions will carry on being regarded as having validity; they will be transmitted to families, to friends, to policy makers, even -- if we're not on our guard -- to ourselves.

All we can do is resist. Through our resistance, we try and help these poor things to break free of their compulsive needs to pathologise us, to label us, to maintain their fondly-held attachments to ideas about normality and abnormality. Who knows, in time they may listen and then, hand in hand, we can move together equally towards a better future for us all.

The following is one of the exercises we used while I was lecturing in Disability Studies at the University of Northumbria in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. It is one of several case studies depicting typical problem behaviours often associated with 'the non-disabled.' The original aim of the exercises was to enable group reflection and discussion among students.

Colin Cameron, June, 2003



drawing of a bureaucrat

Dr. Pillock

by Colin Cameron

Dr Pillock peered across his desk and fiddled with his thermometer.

"Well, Jim," he said in comforting, paternal tones. "I'm not saying it's going to be easy coming to terms with your condition. You will, of course, go through a grieving process over the loss of your old self, but that's quite natural."

"After all, there are a lot of things you'll have to come to terms with and a lot of lifestyle changes you'll have to make... Loss of dignity and self-respect, having other people make the simplest decisions for you, being judged to be incompetent and needy, and so on. But if you need any support, the nurse at the surgery has just completed a six week Introduction to Counseling Basics course at the local college, and I'm sure she'll be an excellent source of emotional strength should you need it."

"Oh," said Jim.

"I know you might be experiencing a tendency to see only the negative side of the picture at this stage, but chin up, old boy, things aren't that bad. I know some patients with your problem who have gone on to regain quite normal lives. Why, only last weekend I spotted old Norris Morris and his wife Doris taking part in the 48-hour Trampoline Challenge down at Connolly Park to raise money for handicapped kiddies. And this weekend I believe that Derek -- you know Derek -- will be going abseiling down the walls of the Limited Options Day Centre to raise funds to buy a new minibus for staff outings. You should have a word with them, Jim, you really should. A fine job they've both made in overcoming their limitations."

"Oh," said Jim.

"Well, if that's all, I really must get on. Any questions?"

"Um, well, em..." Jim hesitated. "What if I don't want to do the 48-hour Trampoline Challenge? What if going abseiling down the walls of the Limited Options Day Centre would be the last thing on earth I would ever consider doing, before I acquired my condition or now? What if I don't feel any need to constantly prove how 'normal' I still am by engaging in ridiculous over-the-top sporting activities? I hate sport. I always have. I always will."

"Ah, well," replied Dr Pillock. "Now, there we begin to have a real problem -- an attitude problem. Let's face facts, John, at the end of the day it's down to you how you deal with this. If you put a brave face on it, go out there and make the most of things, take the world as a series of challenges to be overcome, then you'll be all right. I'm sure you'll manage to fit in somehow. But start complaining and -- well, nobody likes a whiner, do they? Come on, that's the spirit. Life's just like that, I'm afraid. Ask the nurse to send the next patient in on your way out, will you?"

"I see," said Jim as he left the room. "Thank you."

Colin Cameron, of Edinburgh, Scotland, is author (along with John Swain and Sally French) of Controversial Issues in a Disabling Society, (Open University Press)


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