Specific to critical disability studies is its call for 'counter-hegemony with disabled people' (Goodley, 2007: 319). Disabled people's experiential knowledge of living with impairments in an ableist world optimally positions them to provide unique insights into the reproduction of normality. Despite this, disabled people tend to be research informants who have little say about the intellectual purposes their input serves which may lead to underuse of disabled people's experiential expertise. Years back, for example, I provided input for a book on disabled childhoods based on my lifelong experience with walking with a limp. When I was underage children with whom I was not acquaintanced would mimic my a-normal walking style and sometimes call me names. I did not take this personally as my parents had taught me but saw it as a lack of intelligence on the part of the would-be mockers. My input for the book focused on a significant deviation of this mimicry pattern. Once there was a girl who tried to copy my atypical walking style but failed at this. In response she exclaimed in surprise: 'Amazing that you can walk this way!' I found this episode hilarious given that people generally find that I walk poorly and this able-bodied girl could not master a proper limp! The episode highlighted for me that my impaired body is primarily a skilled and competent body - a very counter-hegemonic notion. My interpretation of the failed attempt of mimicry was, however, not included in the book, the authors focused on the intentions of the non-disabled party in encounters and qualified my experience as mimicry and mockery only (Goodley & Lawthom, 2013). To do so is logical from the social model perspective – mockery if taken to heart is a form of disablement, problem is that the social model pays little attention to how disabled people do thwart, sometimes unwittingly, potentially disabling encounters with able-bodied people.
I believe that the diverging interpretations of the mimicry episode exemplify a difference between disability studies proper and critical disability studies. Disability studies criticizes hegemonic views on disability but still largely portrays disabled as victims reproducing the hegemonic image of disabled people as passive and inactive. Critical disability studies, however, may provide more positive images by systematically incorporating disabled informants' emic interpretations of events into analyses. This way a dialogue could be started between ableist and alternative views that may create space for change. Also research that departs from an alternative perspective on disability may assist in replacing crippling images as may research that shows that experiential disability knowledge generates insights that may be useful to both disabled and non-disabled citizens.
- Goodley, D. (2007). Towards socially just pedagogies: Deleuzoguattarian critical disability studies. International Journal of Inclusive Education 11(3): 317-334. https://doi.org/10.1080/13603110701238769
- Goodley, D. & Lawthom, R. (2013). The disavowal of uncanny children: Why non-disabled people are so messed up around childhood disability. In: T. Curran & K. Runswick-Cole (eds), Disabled children's childhood studies: Critical approaches in a global context, pp. 164-179. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137008220_13