Discourse Ks – Gonzaga Debate Institute 14

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Ableist Language

No Link

No Correct Rhetoric

Rose, Editor of BBC disability website, 4

(Damon, Oct 4. “Don't call me handicapped!”, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/3708576.stm, accessed 7/10/12)

But it also raised a thorny question: what words are suitable when talking about disabled people?

The BBC's disability website, Ouch!, regularly get calls about language from people frightened about "getting it wrong".

Due to popular rubbishing of what is referred to as "political correctness', many disabled commentators now publicly say they don't care how people refer to them.

But privately they fume if someone calls them "handicapped" or "brave".

Last year Ouch! ran a poll to try and determine what really are the most vilified words and expressions around disability.

Unsurprisingly "retard" came top as the most offensive followed by "spastic".


1. Retard

2. Spastic

3. Window-licker

4. Mong

5. Special

6. Brave

7. Cripple

8. Psycho

9. Handicapped

10. Wheelchair-bound

Worst Words vote in full

When breaking down the figures though, it was interesting to see that disabled people had voted "special" as fifth most offensive.

"Special service", "special school" and "special needs" are phrases used in an attempt to be positive about disability.

But in the same way women don't like being elevated to "lady", disabled people find it patronising to be lifted to the status of special.

It differentiates them from normal, but in a saccharine manner. Disabled people are different, but not better or more important. Besides, putting them on a pedestal does not appear to be shifting attitudes or solving the appalling disability unemployment situation.

Clearly, language in this field is a hotch-potch of confusion.

Turn - Policing

Policing of ableist language leaves it unengaged and prevents it from being satirized and re-deployed by peoples of disability

Vidali, University of Colorado English Department Assistant Professor, 2010

[Amy, 2010, Expertise in Rhetoric and Composition “Seeing What We Know: Disability and Theories of Metaphor Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, Volume 4, Number 1, page 46-49, http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/journal_of_literary_and_cultural_disability_studies/v004/4.1.vidali.pdf, Accessed 7-6-14, KMM]

In explaining this project to others, I have found myself saying that I plan to look at why the metaphor of knowing is seeing is so prevalent, and I have debated the use of such terms as focus, highlight, and clear as I have drafted and revised. This process has made it obvious that there is no possibility of breaking the links between metaphor and disability, which is emphasized in a recent discussion of disability metaphors on the Society for Disability Studies listserv (which generated 19 posts).15 In discussing the metaphorical concept of “paralysis,” Stephen Kuusisto argued that “disability as a cognitive metaphor is always pejorative and its use as a trope represents a failure of critical and/or imaginative thinking.” In response, Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson suggested that there is little “‘pure’ language without metaphor” and that perhaps we can “trope it for new ends.” Growing from this, Anne Finger claimed that she is not incapable of motion because her right leg is paralyzed, but rather, as she says, “it means I have to find other, out of the ordinary ways of moving,” and she suggests we avoid taking the “red pencil to all such language about disability” (Kuusisto, Lewiecki-Wilson, and Finger). This exchange reflects the difficulty of drawing attention to disability metaphors, as identification can lead to avoidance and the “red pencil,” rather than thoughtful engagement. To be sure, phrases like totally lame might best be weeded out of language, but writing off a metaphor like understanding is grasping, because it assumes a body that can grasp, misses an opportunity to consider the often ignored kinesthetic ways that many of us learn.

The imperative, then, is not simple avoidance of the knowing is seeing metaphor and other metaphors, but a willing embrace of the opportunity to diversify our writing to represent a wider range of bodily and cognitive experience. For example, we can ask students to find the “scents” of previous course ideas while reading a new article, as an exciting alternative to asking them to “see” the main point. We might suggest that colleagues taste and digest a new subject, in order to encourage bodily ways of knowing and interacting that go beyond “witnessing” texts.16 Changing the verb from see/highlight/envision to a new sensory experience not only recognizes, but creates, new ways of knowing. In Talking Sketching Moving: Multiple Literacies in the Teaching of Writing, Patricia Dunn argues that we must engage “visual, aural, spatial, emotional, kinesthetic, or social ways of knowing” (1). Similarly, so must the language of Disability Studies scholarship and teaching—and the metaphors we use—represent this diversity, rather than relying on “seeing.”

As May and Ferri note, the disability community must always be “re-deploying disability metaphors in ironic or agential ways that disrupt simplistic equivalences between disability and social death” (124). And in a piece on theater and disability, Carrie Sandahl similarly argues, “Exerting some control overmetaphorical representation in language, theory, politics, and artistic practice is a vital strategy for radical disability culture,” and she importantly critiques the metaphors that manifest in her own stage productions (13, also see Tolan). While a mere policing of language is not helpful, disability communities must actively challenge ableist models and reclaim disability metaphors. Such shifts are more than playful language: like the impact of she or she or he as third-person pronouns that replace the supposedly neutral he, these revised metaphors do matter and can facilitate change and awareness, most immediately in our own communities.

Such reclaiming of disability metaphors is not without controversy. In “An Enabling Pedagogy: Meditations on Writing and Disability,” Brenda Brueggemann outlines her reclaiming of the “blind leading the blind” metaphor. She explains that when engaging her students in a discussion of how to tutor writing, she had two blindfolded students navigate a task together. She quickly explains that this was “not a sensitivity exercise,” which often leaves those who “simulate” disability “feeling, quite predictably, lucky and empowered in their ability and full of deeply felt pity for ‘that cripple’” (798). Instead, she notes how the two blindfolded students worked together to navigate their way across the quad to a campus building, by asking questions and receiving help from their classmates (799–800). She claimed that there was an appropriate balance “between enabling their independent success and fostering a helpful, but not overwhelming, dependence on others,” which models the tutoring relationship. She concludes that “the blind leading the blind” is a powerful metaphor that indicates that “[d]isability can create knowledge, open doors wider, build ramps to awareness that we all essentially have in us anyway. This happens when any body leads anybody” (800).

In an informative footnote, Brueggemann clarifies that some reviewers bristled at the described exercise, which did have students wearing blindfolds. But I am less worried about the potential harm of the simulation than I am impressed by what occurred when students enacted this metaphor. Their behavior contradicted the typical meaning of “the blind leading the blind,” and the metaphor was claimed, rearticulated, and sent back into the world. As Brueggemann notes, it may be that the “very negativity” of the “blind leading the blind” metaphor grows from “the fear that when the blind do lead the blind, they begin to learn from each other; they begin to collaborate, to gain from their shared knowledge, to grow in and from their widening sense of community” (798). Surely, every disability metaphor cannot be reinterpreted and reappropriated, and the students may well have silently declared their appreciation for their sight as they removed the blindfolds. But if such risks aren’t taken, if such metaphors are not engaged, not only will they not be rearticulated; they will wander further and further from us. As jokingly suggested by Sobchack in the quote that began this article, our prosthetic devices and disabilities may not go “dancing without us,” but our metaphors just might, if we do not actively engage and reinterpret them.

Turn – Commodification

Turn – Making it a voting issue only exacerbates the power relations they claim to resist – commodifying the lived experiences of PWD for their own academic gain

Kitchin, Prof of Geography, Nat’l Univ of Ireland, 2000

[Rob, “The Researched Opinions on Research: Disabled People and Disability Research,” Disability & Geography, v15, #1, pp25-47]

Many disabled academics, such as Oliver (1992), are unhappy at the widespread exclusion of disabled people from disability discourse and call for the adoption of research strategies that are both emancipatory (seeking 'positive' societal change) and empowering (seeking 'positive' individual change through participation). They suggest that current research on disability issues is flawed and problematic in a number of respects. Most crucially, they argue that disability research is not representative of disabled peoples' experiences and knowledges. This is because, as noted, the vast majority of research is conducted by non-disabled researchers. They contend that it is only disabled people who can know what it is like to be disabled and so only disabled people who can truly interpret and present data from other disabled people. Moreover, they argue that research concerning disability research is invariably researcher-orientated, based around the desires and agendas of the (non-disabled) researcher and able-bodied funding agencies, rather than subject(s) of the research (disabled people; Sample, 1996). Indeed, Oliver (1992) argues that the traditional 'expert' model of research represents a 'rape model of research' that is alienating, and disempowcrs and disenfranchises disabled research participants by placing their knowledge into the hands of the researcher to interpret and make recommendations on their behalf; that researchers are compounding the oppression of disabled respondents through exploitation for academic gain.

No Solvency

No solvency, ableist discourses result from views that have been too engrained in society

MacDougall, McGill University Department of Psychology Associate Professor, 2008

[Jamie C., 2008, Accessibility News, “Disability Metaphors Explained - The Senses Vs. The Brain,” http://www.accessibilitynews.ca/acnews/press/all_articles.php?all=141, Accessed: 7-6-14, KMM]

To summarize, the standard view is that the senses do all the perceiving and thinking. If you lose the sense - well you have diminished capacity, but if you try real hard you will find other ways to compensate. As far as language that incorporates this outmoded view, it has been around for so long and is so thoroughly embedded in all our everyday thinking and great literature, that there is no reason to give it up. In fact, we would be giving up a substantial part of our literary heritage and collective identity. Those involved in the long struggle to eliminate sexist language will find this a familiar refrain.

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