Disability is socially constructed. You are marked as disabled by society when the category of people associated with your “abnormality” cannot access things the rest of society can readily access and take for granted. For example, people who are deaf are classified as disabled based on the fact that the majority of us can hear and thus expect the deaf to be able to process such information (e.g. video, music, other audible information in the world around us). In other words, society is structured around people who can hear, and those who this structure cannot readily accommodate are categorized as disabled. But it is important to note that disability is socially imposed on a material world. Deaf people are unable to hear, as are many animals (who live in their environments without being “disabled”). This understanding, which sees disability as being based on material factors but nonetheless ultimately socially constructed, is known as the social model of disability.

People with disabilities are identified by society when they are excluded from a social site which chooses not to accommodate them. Various statistics reflect this dynamic; according to the OECD, within OECD countries 19% of lesser educated people are identified as disabled, however only 11% of those with higher education are identified as disabled. With greater access to education, more sites of society are open to you (e.g. it might be easier to talk to people as a person with autism or more jobs might be open to you if you know a bit of vocab), thus society chooses to accommodate these people more often than those with less education. Women report disability at higher rates than men. This is likely a result of women already being excluded from certain activities. When you add any perceived “abnormality” on top of that, they are even less likely to be accommodated.

People with disabilities have had some success in getting help to live in society through various programs. Among the first programs that attempted to improve social standing of people with disabilities were simple cash benefits (i.e. Social Security Disability Income, charity, etc). These programs attempted to install means of income for people with disabilities, to help them get by due to the fact that capitalism actively tries to exclude them from the labor force. However, these programs (despite being often very minimal payments), are in essence an attempt to install equality of results. This does not do anything other than provide a welfare check funded by imperial dividend. There are the obvious anti-discrimination laws, e.g. you cannot ask someone if they are disabled and you are not allowed to deny them service or employment as a result. This is a typical liberal response to discrimination: don’t actually reverse harm done to or accommodate the discriminated, simply state in the law it’s not legal to discriminate against them. This is comparable to the civil rights acts for the Captive Afrikan people and other oppressed groups. It is of course a crime to discriminate, but you’d be lying to yourself if you thought that this has addressed the root of systemic inequality in a meaningful way.

People with disabilities later began to receive a much more radical concession, laws like the ADA or the Equality law in the UK. These laws state that reasonable accommodation must be provided to people with disabilities, such as wheelchair ramps for those unable to walk. These laws were put in place in response to the creation of the social model of disability. People with disabilities demanded mandatory accommodation, not cash benefits or “civil rights”. They began to somewhat integrate into society where it was “reasonable”, the US DOT estimates that 55% to 60% of buses were accessible to wheelchairs by 1993 as opposed to 24% before the passing of the ADA. However not all accommodation is as simple as a wheelchair ramp (not to mention wheelchair ramps aren’t the only thing people in wheelchairs need), some epileptics need accommodation no judge in a capitalist state would deem reasonable in a workplace, place of commerce, or recreation area. Let us not forget to mention that in the case of employment accommodation, people with disabilities must inform their employer of their disability and this may result in the employer finding some excuse for them to fire or not hire the worker with disabilities.

For a good example of how the ADA has failed to address the underlying problems with disability, we can look at the social life of people with disabilities. According to a ’94 Harris survey of Americans with disabilities, half of the respondents claimed that lack of a full social life was a problem for them. The Harris survey revealed that 70% of those with disabilities reported socializing once a week, compared to 85% of people without disabilities, 55% went to a supermarket compared to 85% without disabilities. Roughly half the percentage of people with disabilities reported going to a movie, seeing live music, or going to a sporting event at least once a year compared to people without disabilities. According to a 2009 study by C. Marshall, E. Kendall, M. Banks & R. Gover, children with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullied. The National Autistic Society reported that 40% of children with autism reported experiencing bullying, and students in special education were told that tattle tailing is bad almost twice as often as students in traditional education. Although only 3% of students nationwide are enrolled in separate schools for students with disabilities as of 2009 according to the NCES, that number is much higher for certain groups of students with disabilities. 8% for people with autism and the hearing impaired, 13% for students with emotional disturbance, 19% for students who are deaf or blind, and nearly 20% for those with multiple disabilities. Finally According to a study by Cornell University, 37% of those in jail, 31% of those in state prison, and 23% of those in federal prison have some sort of disability, only 17% of the general population are people with disabilities.

These programs are almost entirely exclusive to the imperialist countries of the world; only if you are in an imperialist country will you get these band-aids. In the exploiter countries, living with a disability makes you significantly less well-off and severely hampers one’s opportunities for employment, but in the exploited countries being disabled is a complete horror. Many people with disabilities in the exploited countries do receive some sort of low scale help from the family or charity to help them get into the workplace if it is easy enough to deal with, or the case is rare enough to warrant international awe and concern. But for the vast majority of people with disabilities in the exploited countries, they are killed by the conditions they live in, are deeply unsupported and barely get by, or stay with their family their whole life. According to a 1998 UNDP study, the global literacy rate for adults with disabilities is as low as 3% and 1% for women with disabilities and, according to DAA, as of 2001 fewer than 2% of children with disabilities are enrolled in school. According to UNESCO as of 2005 in Africa more than 90% of all children with disabilities have never attended school; we can compare this to Canada and Australia where more than 40% of children with disabilities have only completed primary education according to DAA. Clearly the education of people with disabilities in the imperialist countries is vastly superior. In India the DINF reported that only 0.15% of people with disabilities in India have jobs in the industries, and they only make up 0.4% of the total workforce in India. Compare this to the USA where roughly 35% of those with disabilities have jobs as of 2004. This data shows that not only is it a higher proportion of people with disabilities, but an imperialist country with 300+ million people has a higher amount of people with disabilities working than an exploited country with at the time of the study, 800 million people. I failed to find statistics on other aspects of life, but I think it is fair to extend that with the data on workforce and school inclusion that any data about other aspects of life would be on the same scale of magnitude. This is what disability is like in absence of imperial dividends.

If you haven’t caught on already, there is a fundamental contradiction between capitalism and people with disabilities. Capitalism has outright failed to integrate people with disabilities outside transportation or, marginally, employment. Even within the workforce, people with disabilities are still systematically excluded, as there is too much short-term investment on the part of the capitalist to include them, even if society would benefit long-term from accommodating and training people with disabilities. This investment isn’t always monetary. The US Department of Labor reported that as of 2010, 56% of accommodations for persons with disabilities in the US workplace cost nothing. These are therefore mainly social modifications, such as understanding verbal tics that a person with tourettes or autism might have, and this makes sense when we consider how capitalism has failed to include them into other aspects of life. Capitalism has no need to help the disabled be more included into society other than making sure they have enough income to get by and are able to get around or are put out of sight in prisons or other institutions. Capitalism has enough workers, it almost always has a labor surplus.

Scientific socialism will seek to eliminate disability or at least reduce the prevalence thereof in the field of employment for obvious reasons, socialist states have always had labor shortages and thus will always seek to employ people with disabilities along with all other citizens in full employment; however I am sure many with disabilities are interested in more than employment. Socialism will seek the liberation of the disabled from general social exclusion. Maoists understand that in order to employ people with disabilities, it must address disability at the root and destroy it; there must be an active cultural campaign to include the disabled into all walks of life.

Although the social model has succeeded in recognizing disability as a social construct, the disabled community has failed to understand that we must transcend capitalism. A more radical demand must be called for by people with disabilities, scientific socialism. Scientific socialism will strike disability at the root and include people with disabilities in all walks of life.

  1. http://autisticadvocacy.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/WTTAC-Adult-FINAL-2.pdf
  2. http://www.bork.hampshire.edu/~groundswell/storage/Nothing%20About%20Us%20Without%20Us%20-%20Human%20Rights%20and%20Global%20Disability%20Empowerment%20[James%20D%20Morgan].pdf
  3. http://www.anticapitalists.org/2012/06/07/coalition-anticapitalism-and-people-with-disabilities/
  4. http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/advice-and-guidance/your-rights/disability/disability-in-employment/examples-of-reasonable-adjustments-in-the-workplace/
  5. http://glmw.info/soc-dis/files/disability_in_the_developing_world.PDF
  6. http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?id=18
  7. http://www.unesco.org/education/GMR2006/full/chapt7_eng.pdf
  8. http://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic/sconcerns/disability/
  9. http://www.dinf.ne.jp/doc/english/asia/resource/apdrj/z13jo0400/z13jo0410.html
  10.  http://who.int/disabilities/world_report/2011/factsheet.pdf
  11. http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?navid=13&pid=1515
  12. http://dsc.ucsf.edu/publication.php?pub_id=7
  13.  https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=59

Join the conversation! 4 Comments

  1. Through war, pollution and economic exploitation, the West aslo creates disabilities in the Global South. Disability is exported.

  2. […] Capitalism and the Material Realities of People with Disabilities Today […]

  3. The long days of course exclude a lot of people from work, the point of failure in the formula is not far away as those considered healthy are actively pretending they can work that many hours.

    8 hours of work plus break would be something like 8 to 9.5 hours.
    add 0.5 – 1.5 hour commute and we are at 8.5 to 11 hours.
    add 7 – 9 hours of sleep and we are at 15.5 – 20 hours.
    add 0.5 – 1.5 hours for hygiene, getting dressed, shopping and eating adds up to 15 – 21.5

    Now there are between 2.5 and 9 hours left in the day(!?!?)

    One has to divide those over recreation, physical fitness, mental fitness, raising kids, a partner, relatives, friends, pets etc

    If you work a desk some physical activity should not be considered optional. If you work some physical active job a properly designed system should account for some intellectual activities. Many jobs are neither intellectually or physically challenging.

    With only 2.5 to 9 hours in their day healthy people may be expected to neglect sustaining their fitness, cognitive abilities, kids, family and friends.

    Those who need little sleep, live close to work, eat, dress and manage to run the household in 30 min do get to spend up to 9 whole hours on sports, reading, social activities and raising a family – it seems enough.

    Those who have a less fortunate time table may have to give up on their kids, their mental and their physical health.

    But note that we are still talking about average healthy competitive people.

    If, rather than stabilize, you’d want to improve your physical condition you would need to sleep more than 7 – 9 hours. If people spend 30 min per day with their kids they cant be considered good parents, they are simply not there the whole day. If one wants to be an athlete are these the 30 min of extra sleep one can get?

    For failure to occur we only need to add a little bit of Injury, stress or depression to the mix and the whole scheme stops working. Life already stops working when one is suffering from the smallest things that would go away or be bearable with a bit more rest.

    Even from a purely utilitarian perspective it makes no sense.

    Clearly the solution would be to aim for shorter days, perhaps with more overwork. Make a normal work day last for 5 hours with one short break or non at all.

    The employer can ask you to work for 3 extra hours if he really needs you to be there for 8 hours. The only difference is that this (now called overtime) it is not considered normal or expected and that it should cost extra money.

    I imagine this would quickly start feeding into the solution.


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