Disability in general is not an identity. No specific disability constitutes an identity. It is unhelpful to look for meaning and identification in the random and unfortunate reality of disability.
The urge to seek identity in disability does not stem from the actual disabling elements of any given disability but from broader dissatisfaction with one’s life and with the modern condition. People do not seek to be identified as disabled because they are hurt by their disorders but because they are otherwise lacking in fulfillment and confidence.
Disability is net-negative by definition. If a condition is not a net-negative, then it cannot be said to be dis-ability.
Almost no disabilities come with any kind of compensatory benefits, and none come with vague and flattering psychosocial benefits such as superior insight or being “deeper” than those around you. Assumptions otherwise are based on a desire to establish some sort of inherent justice in the universe, which does not exist.
Arguments that those who suffer from a given disability are in any way superior to others amount to an attempt to leverage society’s sympathy for disability to gain favor in the social hierarchy.
Standpoint theory arguments about disability, such as the claim that only those with disabilities may speak about them, are fundamentally misconceived and incompatible with living in democratic society.
Such arguments are also incoherent, as there is profound disagreement among those who have disabilities on any given topic, most certainly including on the nature of disability itself. There is no such thing as the “disabled community,” much less the “abled community.”
Those who suffer due to second-order effects of disability, such as family members who must help shoulder that burden, have perfectly valid and important perspectives and have exactly equal right to voice them.
The goal with all disabilities is to end them with treatment and prevention. Any condition that should not be ended through treatment and prevention is therefore not a disability.
The legal and social accommodations extended to those with disabilities exist precisely because disabilities are or create disadvantages, hindrances, problems. If a condition is not a disadvantage or hindrance or problem it therefore does not deserve accommodation.
The endless proliferation of disabilities through boutique diagnoses such as “ME-CFS” and “chronic Lyme” stem fundamentally from market need - there is a market desire for additional disabilities to create identity and meaning, and so the medical community is creating additional disabilities.
The inevitable long-run impact of these trends - treating disability as just another identity class used for social positioning, and sowing intentional confusion about whether disabilities are harmful - will be to reduce society’s material accommodations for the disabled.
Those who suffer the most from this development will be the most severely disabled, while those who are most responsible for this development are those who have the least severe impairments and thus will suffer the least.
“Stigma” is not among the top one hundred problems of the average severely disabled person.
The great majority of people react to the knowledge that someone has a disability generally or mental illness specifically not with stigma but with compassion and with a sincere desire to understand.
Stigma in disability discourse functions as a free-floating complaint about anything the individual doesn’t like about their life; any problems, disappointments, setbacks, or imperfections will be called the result of stigma and thus considered a matter of injustice rather than part of the basic unhappiness of human life.
The collapse of the meaning of disability, driven by social media communities and the social climbers among them, represents the general drift of all culture in the digital era - excuse-making for narcissism and selfishness, a relentless focus on the interests of the individual above and beyond the interests of all, endlessly splitting society into chunks of the righteous minority and the stupid and undeserving majority, the gentrification of communicative spaces towards the interests of the most savvy and nakedly self-centered, the mandated bright-siding that insists that any condition the individual cannot change is therefore good, the rejection of the notion of human tragedy and the unchangeable brokenness of human life, and the injunction against ever suggesting that there are others who suffer more than you do and should not be included in your trite definitions of the shared condition. This is the stuff of “marginalized” cultures, now. An affluent 17-year-old who has never been involuntarily committed, has never seriously physically harmed themselves or others, who has never had their shoelaces taken at the door of a mental hospital or been doubled over in stomach pain from meds, who knows nothing of the immense human destruction that can be found in any mental institution, taking to TikTok to make yet another list of the ways people with ADHD are better than those without and, in so doing, saying “this is it, look on me, mine is the face of mental illness, I am the face of disability.” That is our future.
My 65 year old uncle moved to a skilled nursing facility three months ago because my grandfather died and my grandmother could no longer handle his care: cerebral palsy with spastic quadriplegia. He can’t bring his hand to his mouth anymore, or sit unassisted, though in his 20s and 30s he could walk, feed himself, he even went to college.
Another family member was released from involuntary commitment just yesterday.
The pain of disability and mental illness is not beautiful. That humans persist and cope in the face of devastation, that is remarkable. THAT is beautiful.
I'm surprised by how many of these I disagree with, as usually I find myself agreeing with Freddie about disability-related topics. However, a few of these theses strike me as very "old man shouts at clouds", as the kids say, or at the very least coming from a narrow experience of disability that doesn't capture many of the common experiences disabled people have.
For context, I'm a disability attorney who advocates for homeless and chronically-incarcerated people to get their disability benefits. I also assist very disabled low-income children. In my personal life, I have bipolar disorder (wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy) that's resulted in hospitalization before. This isn't to play the "lived experience" card, but just to provide context for where my perspective comes from.
"“Stigma” is not among the top one hundred problems of the average severely disabled person."
I disagree with this because the second-order effects of stigma have massive material consequences on people's lives. I see it every day appealing disability denials, where government bureaucrats flex every prejudiced muscle they have in determining that mental illness isn't real, drug addiction is unrelated to mental health, chronic pain is faked for attention, and disabled people are a burden that society should get rid of. This is working with agencies that exist TO provide support for disabled people, and yet, in the few years I've worked in this role, I've seen a judge deny a client because there was no blood test proving she had depression, I've seen a judge state on the record "maybe [client] will just die already and we won't have to spend time on this hearing", I've seen a client with voluminous favorable evidence denied for missing an appointment when his wheelchair was stolen, I've seen a client denied because "if she's able to panhandle she's able to work full time", I'm working on a case now where "her claims of pain aren't credible because she manages to withstand being homeless", I've seen a 3'2 client with dwarfism get classified as able to lift 50 lbs and do medium labor all day, I've had a client with an amputated foot accused of lying about missing a foot(!) - I have stories for days about the ways the people entrusted with administering benefits to disabled people treat disabled people as inherently liars, attention-seekers, burdens and wastes of space.
There's no empathy for why someone with a disability might struggle with the bureaucracy or getting medical care. There's no benefit of the doubt if someone can't prove that their mental illness predated their substance use. There's no common sense applied to those ridiculous standards about lifting 50 pounds. There's no ATTEMPT to understand disabilities at all. And this is the result of stigma and the belief that disabled people should be out of sight, out of mind, and put through rigorous and demeaning verification processes for having the audacity to ask for benefits at all.
"The endless proliferation of disabilities through boutique diagnoses such as “ME-CFS” and “chronic Lyme” stem fundamentally from market need - there is a market desire for additional disabilities to create identity and meaning, and so the medical community is creating additional disabilities."
I can't speak for chronic lyme, but ME-CFS is not just a boutique diagnosis you get by going to the doctor and asking to be seen as special. It's an exclusion diagnosis that people receive after doctors can't figure out what else could be wrong with someone who's experiencing concrete symptoms. I know the mental image of a CFS patient is some white female twitter user using her diagnosis as a bludgeon to talk over children with cancer, but that's not accurate to the CFS clients I have, who live in such pitiful ways that there's no question about whether they're choosing it just to look cool. Social clout and meaning are minor concerns for my CFS clients, who are too exhausted to get out of bed to take a piss, who sleep under cars in parking lots in the heat because they can't function enough to get to cooling centers or shelters, who forget their personal information so frequently that intake takes multiple sessions just to get their date of birth and what high school they went to.
Ultimately, I think Freddie is making some leaps to connect his (rightful) discomfort with socially-privileged affluent people appropriating the struggles of much less advantaged disabled people to an unproven concrete decline in social support for disabled people. I don't think a single person working at the SSA denying my clients for BS reasons is thinking of Tourette's TikTok teens. I don't think anyone looking at my profoundly disabled shit-smearing clients in administrative segregation is going "this person just has schizophrenia, but that NYT article said schizophrenia's just a more enlightened way of being, so this person must not be smearing their shit on the walls." I think there's so much material bias and resource scarcity already baked into the way we treat disability that TikTok teens are just a drop in the bucket, and that rants about them as if they're the source of any meaningful change in how our culture treats the profoundly disabled feels very shortsighted to me and like a bit of a hobby-horse.