Every morning we wake up to a new day; a day filled with experiences. These experiences are unique to each individual, as they are dependent on one’s abilities. The principle element that differentiates humans is our potential to see, learn and take part in what life has to offer; this is referred to as ableism.
Through the establishment of social standards based on cultural expectations, people are categorized into either an abled majority, or a disabled minority. As discussed in Pearson, “The social model of disability, while acknowledging the biological conditions of disability, challenges the notion that disability is primarily a medical category. From this perspective, the real problem with physical and mental impairment is not physical, but social: It is the way people with able bodies view people with disabilities and the institutionalization of these views that are the genuine handicaps” (Tiemann, 5). Through Oliver 1996b and Duncan 2001 theory of the social model of disability, it is clear that although ableness is a result of biological determinants, it is expressed through social construction.
Social constructs are the building blocks of society. In relationship with cultural norms and expectations, humans have created stereotypes and categorizations for almost everything. With the vehicle of popular culture through television shows and movies, ableism is a basic facet for countless plots. Computer-animated films such as Happy Feet or Avatar, both play with a form of disability that ostracizes a member (usually the main character) from the able-bodied population. In Happy Feet, the storyline is built upon a penguin who is unable sing like the other penguins. He mumbles instead, which in turn, characterizes his identity. Mumble expresses his happiness and love for life through dancing, but this is not accepted. Although he has a miraculous talent, it is overseen by his inability to sing, which consequentially makes him a “disabled” member. Similarly, Avatar is a film that portrays Na’vi-human hybrids, representing the idealized figures in society. The main character, Jake, who happens to be paraplegic, transforms into an Avatar with the hope of becoming an able-bodied human when he returns.
Studying the relationship between these two films bring forth a universal perspective that is expressed in real life. The perspective being: one who is different or contradicts social norms in respect to ablesim is viewed as an outcast. Furthermore, this socially constructed diagnosis, which determines whether an individual is disabled, can only be resolved through change. One must change who they are, and what makes them unique (or “disabled”), in order to be accepted back into society. How does this speak to our generation? What message are we allowing youth to carry with them throughout their lives?
Ableism is not only characterized through one’s physical ability to perform a task, it also plays into one’s cognitive ability to “fit in”. This is a principle component in 2006 dance/romance film, Step Up. The lead role, starring Channing Tatum, plays a lower-class white male who is identified as a street rebel and hip-hop dancer. He gets involved with vandalism and is charged with public offense, resulting in community hours at The Maryland School Of Arts. This already sets the stage for a binary segregation of upper and lower class figures, creating friction as they merge. In order for Tatum to be accepted by his peers in this new setting, he must change himself. His social identity is what disables him from fitting in to another class of individuals. In this sense, is ableism biologically determined at all?
Each and everyone of us has different capabilities. Strengths and weaknesses are what characterize us as individuals, as unique identities. One’s disablement can be biologically determined, whether physical or psychological; but one’s ableism is a socially constructed stereotype. We are given no choice over what bodies we are born into, but we do have a choice in controlling our attitudes and perceptions towards those who are part of a minority. In breaking down these barriers of social cognitions towards ableism, we can turn society into a less segregated population and achieve equality within our differences.
How does ableism impact your life, and what control do you have?
Tiemann, Kathleen A.. The intersections collection: Pearson custom sociology. Gender, Race and Popular Culture ed. New York: Pearson Learning Solutions, 2011.
“Avatar 3D (2009) Full Blu-ray “. Photograph. 2009. Fondazionefalchi.org, http://www.fondazion.org/scarica+trailer+avatar+full+hd+ita.html (accessed March 31, 2013).
“DanielCraigIsNotBond.com endorses “Happy Feet””. Photograph. 2006. http://www.danielcraigisnotbond.com/HappyFeet.html (accessed March 31, 2013).
“Step up (film)”. Photograph. 2006. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Step_Up_(film) (accessed March 31, 2013).