What Does the Word “Disability” Mean?


In H.G Wells’ famous Country of the Blind, a man finds himself trapped in an isolated mountain valley where all of the inhabitants are blind. During the days that follow, the man’s ability to see manifests as a handicap among people who can hear anything and move and work in the dark.

There are many real life examples of disability as a contextual construct. At one time there were so many inhabitants of Martha’s Vineyard isalnd (Massachusetts USA) who were deaf the people there all spoke sign language. Anthropologist Nora Ellen Groce found that the people of the island could not remember who was deaf and who was not!. Oliver Sacks found superior night fishing ability in a group people with achromatopsia in Micronesia. Every day, millions of people download audio books, but some of them are print-disabled.

It is only recently that disability has been studied as a product of the culture in which it is situated. The idea that disability is culturally constructed from intersecting social, gender, power-distance, class, and ethnicity boundaries is unique in some societies and more common in others. Digital-age tools such as social media are breaking down the boundaries between people and what it means to be part of a group. Social media allows us to connect, interact, and collaborate with people we would not ordinarily meet. In fact, social media may be changing our identities in multiple ways and on many levels.

We want to interact with people about their experiences with disability, Let’s take a digital field trip to explore the lived lives of people who have been affected by disability; What does it mean to be disabled? Does disability exist? Does social media play a role in people’s sense of what it means to be “disabled”?

We are Sara Stetson, Ed D, Jill Hartmann (doctoral student) and Ann Gaffney Ed D: educators and researchers from a University in New Hampshire, USA. We are writing and speaking about identity development. Please tell us your story!
GO TO: OneStory

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