On The Social Construction of Disability

People are not disabled because of some inherent flaw on their part, people are disabled because of a society that is unwilling to include them, and provide the supports that are necessary to enable them to live their lives as full citizens.

The text Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice has an exercise in its ableism curriculum design chapter that can help to highlight the impact that environments can have on creating access, or barriers for people with disabilities.

I continue to use it in my classes and workshops because of the way it encourages participants to think about their own lives, and gain a personal connection to, and an increased understanding of the ways the world is tailor-made for able-bodied people.

All that is required is to ask participants to name things in their physical and social environment that help to make their days easier in terms of the activities they do, and the environments they navigate.

After making a list of what participants come up with, then process with them about how different their lives would be without those resources.

For instance, my car allows me to be able to travel great distances more quickly. My cell phone and its access to the internet affords me the ability to access to information on a variety of topics, as well as to a global positioning system so I can navigate unfamiliar places and answer questions that I would normally be unable to answer.

The light on my desk (that I’m using even as I write this note), helps to make sure my eyes don’t have to work as hard to see the screen, and allow me to be able to better interpret the environment around me.

When I eventually go to sleep, the alarm I’ve set on my clock will sound loudly (and annoyingly) enough to encourage me to go to the other side of the room and turn it off so I can get ready, get out, and get to work on time.

The point is, that there are all kinds of supports and accommodations that “able-bodied” people utilize, that are not perceived in that way because of all of the ways “able-bodiedness” is asserted as being not only “normal”, but superior.

As a temporarily able-bodied person, the world is built for me in ways that recognize the everyday tools I use to navigate the world as “conveniences” or “technological advancements” instead of the supports and accommodations they actually are, and therein lies the privilege.

When possible, I like to complement the exercise with this short video.

What are some “everyday conveniences” that make your life easier? How would your life be different without them?

People are not disabled because something is inherently wrong with them. People are disabled because of a society that is unwilling to include them, and provide the supports that are necessary to enable them to live their lives fully.


From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins-Jones, MSW, LLMSW



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Written by

I'm a Social Justice Educator and Aspiring Humanitarian who is interested in conflict resolution, improving intergroup relations, and building more equitable and inclusive communities. "Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian" is my blog, where I write about issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. By exploring social identities through written word, film & video, and other forms of media, I hope to continue to expand and enrich conversations about social issues that face our society, and to find ways to take social action while encouraging others to do so as well in their own ways.

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6 Responses

  1. If possible, a “print” button would be great addition !

  2. Dorlee M says:

    Thank you for such a thought provoking post about the assumptions that we tend to make that inadvertently make life much harder for those who are physically challenged than it needs to be.

    Once we open up our eyes (and the video you included helps one do this humorously and nicely), the privilege temporarily able-bodied individuals have becomes obvious, as well as the need for us as a society to make accommodations and tools available to ensure inclusion of all members of society in all places/activities.

    • Absolutely Dorlee,

      While this will take a lifetime commitment, the hope is that increasing our awareness of the ways in which the world is tailor-made for able bodied people will make it harder to remain neutral or inactive in terms of working for further inclusion and consideration for people with disabilities.

  1. February 8, 2015

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