Of the dozens of juicy questions for future inquiry that Dr. Michelle Nario-Redmond provides at the end of Ableism: The Causes and Consequences of Disability Prejudice (Published by Wiley in 2019), the following stands out the most to me, in my various group-membership roles:
How do we build common ground between disadvantaged groups for effective cross-impairment coalitions?
Though it seemed impossible for this question to feel any more urgent after over a year and a half of COVID-19 and the parallel prominence of social movements to make Black Lives Matter, a recent article by my latest author crush unpacking a profoundly intersectional moment in the meme culture of what we should be calling (thanks to Neal Stephenson’s 30-year old book) Metaverse 1.0 – AKA social media, especially those platforms now owned by the maybe-monopoly formerly known as Facebook – reminded me again of the immense possibilities of disability as a political identity (see Annamma & Morrison, 2018, particularly the footnotes for more background on this). Nicole Froio’s article-that-should-become-a-book extrapolates from a celebrity’s (whack!) Instagram post as an exemplification of what the writer dubs the masculine “performativity of doing the least,” in which the “‘model’ heterosexual family consists of an all-sacrificing mother, a paternalistic father, and children free from disability.”
The timing of Froio’s deft analysis and the 34,000 likes it has garnered–compared to the upwards of 2 million bestowed upon the post in question—remind me of beloved if nuclear boomer Bill Maher’s synchronous editorial segment comparing “model citizen” Greta Thunburg (who is autistic), with 13 million followers, to the “model” (capitalist straight femme normate) Kylie Jenner, with 279 million.
So to return to the question put forth in Nario-Redmond’s Ableism: In our polarized, productivist socio-cultural context, how the f*#% do we build coalitions?!?
Discussions of disability can often involve references to ableism – and disableism, anapirophobia, anapirism, depending on your capability (a related construct I am using cheekily) for nuance in interaction with a given situation’s need for linguistic exactitude.
Ableism is both a straightforward and a complex concept. By opening with a lengthy excerpt from Maria Palacios’ 2017 poem, “Naming Ableism,” and citing numerous scholarly sources from over the years, Nario-Redmond’s Introduction exemplifies the individual, systemic, scholarly, and artistic dimensions inherent in any meaningful undertaking of the issues at hand – a phrase that could easily be considered ableist, and which I employ purposefully as a pedagogical illustration of the point. As Nario-Redmond (2021) writes after citing numerous sources published over the last few decades,
While multiple definitions help frame the scope of the concept, in the present volume, ableism is simply defined as prejudice and discrimination toward individuals simply because they are classified as disabled—regardless of whether the impairments are physical or mental, visible or invisible. In the field of social psychology, prejudice is traditionally conceptualized in terms of three related components…Affective emotions or attitudinal reactions, Behavioral actions/practices, and Cognitive beliefs/stereotypes that go beyond general negativity….Ableism can operate at multiple levels affecting personal self-perceptions, interpersonal interactions, and intergroup relations. (p. 6)
In defining ableism as a sprawling and yet specific construct, Nario-Redmond sets the book up as an expansion beyond the majority of social-scientific literature, which is “narrowly focused on a specific aspect of the subject or limited in scope to psychoanalytic tradition,” as the back cover states.
At nearly 400 pages, Ableism: The Causes and Consequences of Disability Prejudice, is indeed a thorough scholarly critique of how social psychology has failed “to conceptualize disability as a social category, a group membership,” and neglected to develop “an intergroup perspective on ableism [which] recognizes that while prejudice often occurs between individuals…prejudice also represents beliefs and motivations that derive from belonging to particular groups…often motivated to maintain their status differences (Tajfel & Turner, 1979)” (p. 9). With Activist Pages drawing from a wide range of media and resources at the conclusion of every chapter, the book is also a generous offering to current and emerging work involving disability studies, social/community psychology, and—in my opinion—clinical and behavioral psychology, sociology, and education. By systematically analyzing how disability prejudices function across social contexts, Nario-Redmond extends not only the literature, but also readers’ very bodyminds (a so-helpful phrase that further demonstrates the importance of word choice, which I have picked up thanks to disabled folks advancing disability justice discourses in multiple modalities, such as Leah Piepzna-Samarasingha’s Care Work in the Apocalypse: Dreaming Disability Justice).
If you live with a disability or an impairment, or are familiar with the interstitial connections between the communities with concerns common, if not adjacent, to disability justice and rights movements (e.g., neurodiversity, chronic pain, mental health), ableism is a word that readily makes sense to you. If not, there are excellent resources readily available online. Andrew Pulrang’s articles on ableism and disability in Forbes elucidate everything from the individual to the systemic, from current accessibility legislation/funding to the American work ethic. Definitions of these topics are like verbal infinity pools: the edges are at once very real, and also elusive; and if you don’t have one in your house, you probably contemplate them only occasionally. However, as Nario-Redmond (2021) shows throughout Ableism, the implications of pejorative stereotyping and associated reactions ranging from contempt to inspiration are vast.
Christina Anderson Bosch is an assistant professor of special education at the California State University, Fresno, also on Twitter @DocCABosch.