Study Questions: Chapter 12
1. What did Irving K. Zola contribute to the sociology of disability?
Answer: Irving K. Zola has been called the “father” of the sociology of disability. He taught medical sociology at an American university and helped found the Society of Disability Studies. He was also a founding editor of the society’s journal, Disability Studies Quarterly. Zola did not only teach, research, and write on disability issues, but he also had first-hand experience—he lived with polio from the age of 15 and then was further disabled by a car accident at age 20. He was a disability rights activist, and his own experience provided insights into life with a physical disability and helped him to connect with others with disabilities. It also enabled him to carry out participant observation research and institutional ethnographic analyses of the Het Dorp, a community of about 400 people with disabilities who were institutionalized in the Netherlands. (pp. 303–304)
2. What is the medical model of disability? What are some of the critiques of this model?
Answer: The medical model of disability relies on the expert knowledge of medical professionals who use science to understand and explain disability. It views people with disabilities as having problems or flaws that must be fixed. The medical model has created some amazing, life-altering advances for people living with disabilities, but it has been criticized. Many people with disabilities and those who support them find the medical model oppressive and not necessarily open to the subjective experiences of those who actually experience the disability. The medical model may be good for targeting a specific issue and offering a specific treatment, but it rarely views the person as a holistic being, where the issue is just one thing about his or her life. Treatments can often be worse for a person’s overall health and wellbeing. (p. 304)
3. What is critical disability theory and why do these theorists make a distinction between “natural impairments” and “disability”?
Answer: Critical disability theory (CDT) is a social constructionist theory that makes a distinction between a “natural impairment” and “disability” per se. A natural impairment is the actual condition that a person is born with (e.g., a learning disability or one shorter leg). Disability is the way the surrounding environment does not allow the person with the impairment full access or the ability to participate fully in society. In that sense, the impairment becomes “disabling” to the person through the way society is organized. Social constructionists view social categories as being socially constructed, rather than entirely natural (e.g., a perceived difference between “races” or between genders). CDT perceives the environment surrounding the person as the problem—as where the responsibility and accountability should lie—as opposed to lying with the individual with the natural impairment. Society should change, not the individual; therefore, critical disability theorists have the activist goal of substantive equality over formal equality. Substantive equality means that people with disabilities be provided with whatever supports they require so that they are not disadvantaged. (pp. 310–311)
4. What components characterize Deaf culture and how is Deafness different from deafness?
Answer: Deaf culture is seen by many deaf people as a separate but equal (to mainstream) culture, with its own history, traditions, languages, sets of values, and so on. When capitalized, “Deaf” refers to a socio-cultural category to which people who are deaf may belong; it refers to a community of people. Deaf, when not capitalized refers to the actual physical inability to hear. Because Deaf people do not consider themselves “disabled” but rather, “differently abled,” they are sometimes dismissive of interventions and technologies that would change them into hearing people. In that sense, it is about identity. (pp. 314–316)
5. What is the relationship between gender and disability?
Answer: Not much research has been undertaken on gender and disability other than labour market and earnings research. That research demonstrates that women with disabilities make less money and are more often unemployed than men with disabilities. Other hypothesized issues regarding gender and disability are that it is much easier for men with a disability to find a partner who does not have a disability than it is for women to find one and that issues that disproportionately affect women are more often overlooked, ignored, viewed as trivial or disregarded as being “all in her pretty little head.” With regard to men finding a lasting partner, it is suggested that men want to be taken care of by a woman; they do not want to care for one. As that is women’s cultural role anyway, that seems reasonable. With regard to medical professionals not taking seriously ailments that women experience disproportionately, it is suggested that women experience these conditions (e.g., chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia) more than men because of the stress of living in a society that does not value women as equals to men. Hence, women experience more abuse and threats of assault, being controlled by men in the home and workplace, the double shift, and so on. (pp. 323–325)