One of the issues that was brought up in class is that members of society without disabilities after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act still refused to acknowledge that individuals with disabilities are just “one of many” people with disabilities throughout society. People with disabilities can be seen as a group or class of people that deserve to be protected by civil rights legislation. I attempted to think of a reason that society would have trouble seeing a person with a disability as a person within a larger group of people. The first idea that I can up with is perhaps individuals without disabilities are struggling to identify a person with a disability as having both an individual and a collective identity.
One the one hand, we want people to see individuals with disabilities as individuals. We hope that society recognizes every person as unique with unique needs, unique desires, and unique approaches to situations. We try to educate society to think of an individual with a disability as a person and to recognize that person as in individual in the same way that a person without a disability would be recognized.
However, people with disabilities also wish at times to be seen as a class or as a group of people. For example, when it comes to making buildings accessible, people with a disability wish that the person making the renovation for the building to be accessible would make the building accessible to the entire group of people with disabilities, rather than only the person who had trouble entering the building and requested the renovation. An individual with a disability who goes through the hassle of convincing a public accommodation to provide the person with an accommodation would hope that the accommodation would become permanent so that all people with disabilities would be able to access the service in the future without having to go through the hassle. If the people providing the accommodation see the person with the disability as a single unique person, they may think they only have to accommodate that one person and worry about another person who would need the accommodation if, and when, the situation arises.
I can understand how it can be difficult for people without disabilities to understand how the disability rights community could want it both ways. How could individuals with disabilities want to be seen as an individual but still as part of a group? I can recognize how people can grapple with these seemingly opposite desires, but I also see that people do this all the time throughout society. While a woman may want to be recognized as a unique individual, she may also identify with women as a group and fight for women’s rights accordingly. Therefore, I cannot attribute the rejection of the “one of many” idea to the struggle between the individual and the collective identity.
Another reason that I think people without disabilities might reject recognizing people with disabilities as “one of many” is because people without disabilities do not encounter disability often enough to understand it and/or people without disabilities choose to reject the concept of a people with disabilities as a class of people. Because so many people throughout society have disabilities, I think that people who do not understand disability because they do not take the time to try to understand it. I recognize that people with disabilities are often segregated from people without disabilities in education, housing, and many other aspects of life. However, while people without disabilities might claim that they do not often encounter people with disabilities, I think the people without disabilities are either only considering a certain types of disabilities, such as visible disabilities, to be disabilities or are ignoring disability all together. This lack of knowledge on disability might be a reason that people without disabilities refuse to see people with disabilities as a class of people, especially a class of people that deserve civil rights protections.
Either way, there is one if not many barriers that need to be overcome before people without disabilities begin to see people with disabilities as not only individuals but also a group of people who both individually and collectively deserve civil rights.