Disability, Culture, And Society

Discussion: Health-Related Impairments & Disablement

Many of you have indicated a precarious or uneasy distinction between visible and nonapparent impairments in previous weeks. For instance, some of you said there is, seems to be, or can be a difference between physical disabilities and mental health impairments. I’d like to hear more about this. In each case, your comments suggest that this distinction is more social than anything else. That is, the difference between these exists between one person and (their perceptions of) another. How would you – or society in general – compare and contrast visible and nonvisible impairments?

What about impairments that are “detectable” but easily misconstrued? It seems to me that visible impairments, let’s say difficulty walking, could easily be misinterpreted especially by people who do not have diagnostic medical training (like, you know, most of us). Further, invisible yet ‘perceivable’ impairments (such as mental health impairments) can be even more confusing. This is perhaps why “crazy” is such a place-holder not only for psychiatric impairments but also for everyday things. For instance, “it’s crazy how hot it is today”. What? What does this mean and what is being said 1) about ‘craziness’ and 2) about the temperature? In saying this are we suggesting that the heat needs to be regarded with fear or suspicion as people who disclose or otherwise demonstrate mental differences are often treated?

Or, is it a question of “medicalizing” body-minds outside of medical settings? For example, how would you explain the way that people with diabetes or cancer are typically regarded in society as opposed to the ways that people with depression or bipolar disorder are treated? For example, I’ve never – well, almost never – seen anyone respond to the violence of a school shooting with calls to lower the calorie content of school lunches.