Sunday, February 1, 2015

Ableism and Capitalism

During our class discussion and while reading Longmore (2003) I was thinking a lot about the inextricability of ableism and capitalism. In class we discussed the disparate rate of unemployment among disabled people as well as the ableist assumptions underlying policies that keep folks with disabilities unemployed and on SSDI. I don’t think this can be discussed without considering the economy and the need for unemployment within capitalism which, in conjunction with ableism, hinders people with disabilities from gaining employment at significantly higher rates than those not labeled with disabilities. Longmore points to governmental disincentives for disabled people to find jobs and notes the inordinate amount of spending that is allocated to social-service benefits as compared to vocational rehabilitation (p. 28). Money that could be spent on making work places more accessible is instead allotted to ensure that people with disabilities remain unemployed. The enmeshment of ableism and capitalism also has bearing on our class conversation regarding school policies and practices. In particular, neoliberal education reforms, such as charter schools and the increasing implementation and reliance on high-stakes tests, while harmful for all students, have disproportionately disadvantaged disabled students historically marginalized in schools. The devaluation of students with disabilities is entwined with capitalism in that disabled people are seen as unproductive and inefficient workers within a capitalist system. The perception of people with disabilities as not contributing to the economy represents an irony that sheds light on the illogic of humanist conceptions of autonomous individuals given that massive markets are built around people with disabilities such that many profit off of people labeled with disabilities under an ableist system that marginalizes and segregates them (through, for instance, “special” schooling materials, educational resources, medications, devices, professional training, segregated private housing and schools, etc.). While much of the professionalization around disability relies on a medical/individualized model of disability, this also highlights some messy territory in disability studies in that many technologies and resources that are necessary to make spaces accessible and accommodating for everyone are at present produced in an inherently exploitative capitalist system. This global system, importantly, not only devalues people with disabilities and reifies conceptions of disability as deficiency but, moreover, is implicated in the creation of disability through environmental damage, neocolonial forces, war, and the exploitative conditions under which outsourced labor occurs. This raises a lot of weighty yet essential questions for future disability studies research and a global disability rights movements to grapple with.

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