It occurs to me, in my conversations with Simon Stevens, that there seem to be a shortcoming in the social model of disability. We were talking on msn this morning about his plans to do a PhD on disability and online gaming. games like ‘second life’ are now massive, with thousands, if not millions of players. Matrix like, they recreate the world; yet that world is perfect. As such, disability does not need to exist.
Yet it does. This fact seems to contradict both models of disability: the contradiction with the medical model does not interest me, as it is too obvious; the contradiction with the social model is, however, more subtle. If disability is a social construct, then, in a world where the real, as it were, is determined by the imaginary, then disability shouldn’t exist. In a world where we are free to be ourselves, without the barriers imposed on society, then disability shouldn’t exist.
The fact that it does lead us to something of a revelation: the social model takes no account of pride. Disability is part of who I am; yes, it’s a pain in the ass yesterday my wheelchair broke – but it’s part of who I am. I like being Matt, the guy who zooms round campus in a chair; matt who uses that odd contraption in the wes; matt with more friends than he could count! I love being me, and wouldn’t change it for the world!
As Simon pointed out, what is needed is a cultural model of disability. We see ourselves as disabled because we want to. This is, of course, very problematic: who, after all, would choose a world where most of your school mates die? Its not all peaches and cream. This gives rise to a contradiction: do we or do we not want to be disabled? I am proud of being disabled, yet… I still see those men in Weston, and the road back home; such images haunt me. Time and time again, I have been given such news. Granted, had I not gone to special school, things would have been different, so disability and such things are not intertwined completely, but the two are associated. Nevertheless, I would not change who I am; I am proud to have known those boys. In a way they are the reason why I would not take the magic pill, for were I to be cured of my cp I would be denying my roots and my history. To do so would be a betrayal.
This is why disability must exist in things like second life. Disability is part of who I am. If I hated my disability I would hate myself. It was Ahab’s hatred of his disability which destroyed him and his ship, for it inspired his insane quest against the white whale, although this is one reading of Melleville. I am not Ahab. Whales may be ‘dumb brutes’, as Starbuck put it, but they are also beautiful animals, gliding so gracefully though the water. Like Ahab, I can hate my own disability, and like Ahab I can ”shoot my hot hearts shell upon it”, but I choose instead to swim with it.
Thus I think there is a place for a cultural model. I think it has it’s limits, and it needs work – it doesn’t for example explain how disability arises – but, unlike the social and medical model, it opens a space where we can be proud of who we are.