Enabling Society

As a society, India is only very slowly becoming disabled-friendly. Most public spaces are inaccessible to the physically handicapped, and indeed, most of us are simply unaware of the rights of disabled people, though the wrongs done to them are all too evident.

In the 1980’s disabled scholars in the West began to develop a radical critique of biomedical conceptions of disability that focused exclusively on the individual body and its limitations. They also exposed the failure of the social sciences to critically address what this medical understanding of disability meant, and what it excluded from consideration. Out of their work emerged what is generally called the ‘social model’ of disability. Over the past twenty years this perspective has generated a substantial literature, much of it making use of the methods of qualitative social research. Narratives and life histories produced by disabled people themselves have a central place in the Disability Studies literature. This work has major implications for professionals in the rehabilitation field, for the social sciences, and the ultimate goal, for the full integration of disabled people into society. However almost all of if focuses on the traditions, practices and dilemmas of northern countries.

In India, in Thailand and in most of Asia, the field of disability continues to be dominated by the biomedical model. Thus, ‘disability’ is understood as an incurable chronic illness and, increasingly, an object for medical diagnosis and investigation. Despite many positive developments, little convergence between disability politics and practice on the one hand, and sociology and anthropology on the other has taken place. Surveying the international literature on disability and rehabilitation, it becomes apparent that many studies carried out in Asian countries are designed to measure the extent of (unmet) need or the impact of services or attitudes to disabled people. Virtually no studies make use of the innovative, usually qualitative and often holistic approaches developed in Western countries over the past twenty years.

Renu Addlakha who has earlier written Deconstructing Mental Illness: An Ethnography of Psychiatry, Women and the Family (Zubaan, 2008), is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Women’s Development Studies, New Delhi. She has edited the necessary and timely reader, Disability and Society along with some colleagues. Addlakha's specialisation is the sociology of medicine, and this book introduces readers in Asian countries to the recent disability literature of the West. The editors hope that it will inspire new thinking among social scientist, rehabilitation professionals and organizations of disabled people themselves that could further the empowerment of people with disabilities.

From Orient Blackswan, in our Public Health section. Rs 695, 476 pages. ISBN: 9788125036869

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