Marta Russell, writer for Z Magazine, outlines the invisibility of the disability issue in the academic and activist debate in discrimination as a whole. Russell extensively uses secondary sources to make her article more grounded in theory and previous academic work. In this way, the slant of bias is not apparent, as she does not write this as an opinion piece and seeks to inform her audience for two reasons. Russell, is calling for social justice of the disabled and, also, is contributing to the body of work already compiled on this issue.
In her call for action, she does use loaded language to engage readers, her choice for a title, alludes to this before a reader can even begin studying her work. The article, “The Social Movement Left Out”, was written in August, 2002 and suggests that the disabled are unseen in circles of academics and activists and that this is a huge problem. Russell goes into the history of the label of disability to give perspective on the issue. The concept of inferiority is rooted in the late 19th century social creation of “normality. ” “The normal” was used as a means of measuring, categorizing, and managing populations.
It informed hegemony, ranking order by the directive of the constructed “norm. ” In turn, normality established the universal, unequivocal good and right from which social, economic, and political rights were granted — rights being a means in liberal democratic societies of mitigating oppression (2002). In looking at the history of disability and its categorization, the implications of such movements, as the eugenics movement in both the United States and Germany and the absence of any movements inclusive to persons with disabilities is alarming.
Russell believes that the issue of disability has always been a part of other types of discrimination and its absence of acceptance in Feminist and other field of inquiry is mistaken. Her justification of this conclusion is that women and other minorities were discriminated against, because of some sort of inferior status, just as persons with disabilities are today. The initial reasons that were legalized before legislation was passed giving these groups more rights to participate in the workplace, voting, and other important aspects of social life was that women and other minorities were mentally deficient.
In this way, they were viewed as less intelligent than white men, until this idea was shattered and laws made to protect these groups, this was the prevailing idea. It makes sense then, Russell reveals, to make disability and all the discrimination involved with it, a part of other activists’ agendas. Russell outlines the historic legislation made exclusively for persons with disabilities in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. These laws were helpful in assisting persons with disabilities in getting and keeping work and having legal recourse for any discrimination made in his or her career.
It should be noted that persons with psychological impairments are not separated from persons with physical impairments. There is a limit to this analysis for that reason. Persons with mental illnesses have undergone a huge step in integrating with larger society, as efforts to reduce stigma on the part of researchers and psychologists have been successful in the past two decades or more. The separation of the two types of disability (physical and psychological) is notable, but not noted in this article.
It should be part of the debate why physical disability has not seen visible improvement, in terms of public acceptance, as has mental illness. One of the most interesting aspects of this essay is the fact that other social movements involving discrimination all possessed more of a collective sense of political and economic barriers that made these causes more urgent. In contrast, Russell believes that disability is viewed more as a personal problem that does not have an overarching capitalist agenda and is up to each person to finds ways to cope with their limitations.
While gender and race can all be viewed as mechanisms to limit the number of workers to the minimum, disability should fit, as well. But, since disability is pervasive in all races, genders. socio-economic classes, etc… it is viewed quite differently. In fact, Russell tips to the school of thought that points to capitalism as the culprit in discrimination of those with disabilities. Radical disability theorists have posed that under capitalism impairment is socialized as a specific form of oppression — disability.
The defining feature of capitalism, commodity relations, has been a primary force behind the economic impoverishment of impaired persons. The material relation is primary and the ideology of superiority/inferiority serves the function of maintenance and perpetuation of this social relation (2002). In conclusion, discrimination of persons with disabilities is lacking in inclusion with other academic and activists efforts to put issues of discrimination under one umbrella. Russell manages to use extensive literature review and a call to action for people to realize this rift between minorities.
Her essay is impressive in both form, tone, and content. The only missing factors in this puzzling debate is the other rift between persons with mental versus persons with physical disabilities. Once this is acknowledged and scholars and students see the uniform umbrella that is overarching all stereotypes and bars to decent living by minorities, only then can real progress and a real missing movement be visible for the disabled. Reference: Russell, Marta. (October 31st, 2002). “The Social Movement Left Out” in Z Magazine. Available online <http://www. zmag. org/sustainers/content/2002-08/31russell. cfm>. Last accessed April 1st, 2008.