Divisions in the disability community

Within the community of disabled persons in this country there is a division between those concerned with civil rights and those concerned with service delivery. Internet publication URL: www.independentliving.org/toolsforpower/tools3b.html

Within the community of disabled persons in this country there is a division between those concerned with civil rights and those concerned with service delivery. On the one hand, there is the Independent Living Movement which is a necessary fact of life for disabled persons in this country today, whether or not they require the services of an Independent Living center. There is also the Disability Rights Movement which is a necessary for disabled persons in this country today, whether or not they face civil rights violations. Although there is an overlapping membership, persons who identify with the Independent Living Movement are concerned with the provision of services to disabled individuals in order to make them truly independent. They say that without transportation, income, housing, and other necessities, disabled persons cannot be in a position to work for civil rights. Persons who identify with the Disability Rights Movement say that services will never be consistently and adequately provided until the civil rights battle is fought and won. The differences can be illustrated by an example. If a disabled person has a job, but no transportation to that job, a person in the Independent Living Movement would assist him/her to obtain some means of transportation to work. A person in the Disability Rights Movement would assist him/her to undertake political and legal action to make local transportation accessible and available because the disabled person, as a matter of law, has the right to use it as other persons in the community can use it. The Independent Living Movement people would talk about reduced fares, paratransit, and negotiation. The Disability Rights Movement people would talk about lobbying, demonstrations, and law suits. The recent disputes between ADAPT and some local Independent Living centers reflect this divergent perspective on the problem of transportation.

It is an interesting side note that many claim that California was the origin of both the demand for services and the fight for civil rights. They lump both together under the name of the Independent Living Movement. Others claim that Massachusetts was the origin of both the demand for services and the fight for civil rights. They lump both together under the name of the Disability Rights Movement. Persons in Illinois, Florida, Texas and almost every other state make a similar claim. Opponents to the various claims say that Californians were concerned about civil rights only as an afterthought, while in Massachusetts services were viewed only as a means to obtain activists. Illinois is criticized for not being controlled by disabled persons. Florida is criticized for being concerned only with physical disability, thereby leaving out half of the disability community. Texas is shrugged off as a newcomer. This writer was born in Texas and lived there until 1964. I can state unequivocally that by 1948, as a teenager, I was working for both services and civil rights. However, I was a voice crying in the wilderness and did not encounter any organized activity until moving to Boston in 1970. Nevertheless, the final resolution of this question on the origin of the Movement(s) I will leave to some historian. My point is that the divisions are not recent and are not inconsequential.

This split is also seen in the Association on Handicapped Student Service Programs in Post-Secondary Education (AHSSPPE). Many members of AHSSPPE come from a student personnel orientation and express the position that the association and its journal (Journal of Post-Secondary Education and Disability) should focus on the delivery of services to disabled post-secondary students. The field, as they understand it, encompasses concerns such as the administration of an office for the delivery of these services, attitudes of faculty and administrators toward disabled students, technical details of how persons with various disabilities can be accommodated in different courses, questions of admission and retention, data about specific disabilities with implications within the post-secondary context, and related matters. On the other hand, AHSSPPE was one of the earliest professional associations that welcomed papers which went beyond this range of topics at its national meetings. In part, it was because many (including members coming from a student personnel orientation) perceived their job in terms of the civil rights of disabled post-secondary students. It was also because a large number of AHSSPPE members taught on a regular basis. Many of them guest lectured in courses, many taught as adjuncts, and many (including this writer and the editor of the DSQ) had regular faculty appointments. Nevertheless, the division between providers and advocates can be seen in the topics listed in the annual AHSSPPE meeting programs, but it is diminishing.

This FOCUS began with a discussion of division as a split. However, there is another meaning of division which is very important. Division can also mean a part of something. The "divisions" of which I write can be seen as parts of the overall whole. There is no necessary conflict between those mostly concerned with civil rights. Both activities must occur at the same time: individual and systemic advocacy for services and civil rights and there will not be people to fight for civil rights without the provided services. We must work cooperatively to achieve the goal of an open society composed of truly independent and interdependent people.

Source: Disability Studies Quarterly, Summer 1988. Editor Kenneth I. Zola, Dept of Sociology, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA 02254, United States.

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