The Social Construction of Disability

11 Mar


In her essay, “The Social Construction of Disability”, Susan Wendell argues that society creates disability by operating under the assumption that all members of society fit an able-bodied male paradigm, which consequently prevents the physically impaired from fully participating in society (26). Wendell critically examines the social and cultural factors that lead to the social construction of disability. Important to cite are definitions of “social factors” (i.e., how members of a group are treated based on cultural factors) and “cultural factors” (i.e., how members of a group are viewed and represented based on social norms and dominant attitudes) as employed by Wendell in her text.

Rather than disability existing in the body, Wendell argues that society is constructed in a way that accommodates young, able-bodied men and thus creates disabling circumstances for those who cannot keep up with society’s expectations.  Though most of Wendell’s content reflects upon the way in which society forces disability on impaired people, she also touches on another very important point: in many instances, society causes impairments.  According to Wendell’s model of social construction, some individuals come into the world already impaired and experience disablement for the vast majority of their lives due to social factors (e.g. failure to put wheelchair ramps outside buildings, higher expectation of work hours,  ect.) and cultural factors (i.e. how disabled people are represented as a group) constantly at work; whereas others begin their lives as able-bodied and health, later facing impairment from social factors (e.g. war, contaminated resources, ect.) and then having disability thrust upon them by social factors  and cultural factors.

Although one could argue that disability is merely a socially constructed concept, impairment inarguably affects over a billion people.  Because our society is constructed around a male-paradigm, physically impaired individuals often struggle to keep up with not only (demanding) expectations but also what is necessary for their survival. In the United States, previously employed, physically disabled individuals receive monetary compensation from the government for the income they are unable to work for.  As much as a godsend this is for working people, throwing money at them does not mobilize them.  In order to make the world a place where the physically impaired will not feel disabled by a society that fails to accommodate them, infrastructural changes need to be made, e.g. implementing disabled labor, lessening life-pace expectations, improving the public health system and being conscious of impairment-friendly architecture.



One Response to “The Social Construction of Disability”

  1. 1moonpast May 2, 2011 at 5:26 pm #

    There is also the issue of the unseen disability. Mentally disabled people struggle against enormous biases within society as they try to go about their daily lives. The discrimination against the mentally ill separates an entire group of people from the “norm”, leaving them to cope with systems of government put in place to aid the disabled on their own. There are numerous derogatory labels for people who have biological chemical imbalances that effect mood function. From “crazy” to “insane”, anyone perceived as too different is often persecuted and discriminated against.

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