17 September 2009

Transactional Disability

Michel Foucault, I have learned from my favorite Foucault scholar, wanted to investigate not identity, and not causes, but the movements - the acts - we make in the "spaces" between us when we interact.

And Tom Shakespeare joins the social model of disability to the body itself when he speaks about disability occurring at the "intersections" - the "places" where our bodily capabilities meet the world "as it exists."

Then, a Twitter-pal with a visually impaired child, wrote this: "Going to get son to walk around lake with me in the dark - he won't need his cane, but I'll need flashlight."

Transactional Disability.

Somewhere between "the medical model" - difference described as a medical illness the way Americans do - "a person with cancer" "a person with a reading disability" - and the "social model" - difference described as only a problem created by societal norms, lies "the transactional model." Yes, we are all different in various ways, including our set of capabilities. These differences become "impairments" when we - the differently capable - find that we can not negotiate the world the way others have set it up.

I may not be disabled when I watch a movie. Nor when I watch television, listen to the radio, listen to a friend or a teacher, listen to music, look at art. In fact, I think my capabilities are at least "average" or better when I meet these tasks. I become disabled when people choose, instead, to present information in alphabetical code. Those former information transfer systems I can navigate with ease. The alphabetical code leaves me tripping over myself. There is nothing "wrong" with me, nor is there anything wrong with the alphabetical code - the problem occurs in the transaction space - where print and I meet.

So there is no doubt that the mother and son in the Tweet above have actual capability differences. Their vision capability difference is not merely a trick of societal construction. Yet there is nothing "wrong" with either. This need not be a "diagnosis." As the mother knows, the description of "disability" changes as the light does - thus it changes as the seasons change - and changes as the location changes. Walking around the lake in the dark she needs Assistive Technology, her flashlight, while he needs none. Moving across a street in the daylight, he may need supports, and she not.

This is important. I really believe it is. Right now we describe both the son above and myself in pathological terms. There is something "wrong" with us. But who decides that? That is society abusing some to raise up the power of others. The person who can't translate a construction document goes through much of their life without problem. But when they end up with a pillar in the middle of their office (I actually saw this almost happen) they are having a "transactional" problem - we need not label them "a person with a plan disability." The 5'6" person who cannot reach the top shelf at the grocery store is also having a "transactional disability" - we need not diagnose a height problem.

Just as the child who is "fine" until you ask him to sit in a chair for an hour need not be diagnosed. There's nothing inherently wrong with the chair or the child, just what happens when they meet. Alter the transaction space, or the rules of the transaction space, and the "disability" will vanish.

Look at the kids in your classes today. Look around. Then look around the space you share. Look at the tools you use. And think about the "transaction spaces" and who gets "disabled." Maybe you can figure out ways that allow us all to meet on equal terms.

No diagnosis required.

- Ira Socol


Durff said...

Interesting. I am disabled when I walk in RL on this globe, but not when I walk, skip, run, dance in SL. I am disabled when I speak offline, but not in written text on a phone or computer. My handwriting is this plane of existence is difficult to produce and read, but my composition is much better. So I am disable with the world with which I intersect. Such an interesting thought! Thank you!!

Anonymous said...

This falls right in line with the book I'm working on- how much of Autism is "disability" versus how much does disability become defined by the neurotypical majority who see difference as disability? Interesting read, thanks!

poulingail said...

Love the visual imagery here. I was just thinking today that this is a man's world when once again I couldn't reach something on the top shelf of the cupboard, or when using countertops and in order to apply leverage I have to use more chest muscles than a man would. I, as a short woman, have a transactional problem with my kitchen (one which of course was designed for a man and by a man, but I won't belabor that.) Glad to see you in my Twitter PLN. Will add your blog to my Reader if it's not there already.