There is no such thing as “the disability community”.


I hear the phrase ‘disability community’ more and more. A lot of the time it’s positive: “there have been strong protests from the disability community”. Sometimes it’s pretty nasty “he’s not part of the disability community” and some times it’s idiomatically dangerous “the disability community won’t stand for it”.

I’m unsure about the phrase ‘disability community’. It starts to fail very quickly as soon as you start to subdivide. It doesn’t really make sense to talk about the ‘epileptic community’ or the ‘dyslexic community’ even if it does make sense to talk about the (D)eaf community, which is a very real cultural group defined precisely and held together not just by shared experience but also by logistics.

I think at best we can say ‘disability communities’. I’ll accept that there a groups, big and small, scattered far and wide. Communities based around individual schools or particular contexts, sports clubs, life stages, or geography. I’ll accept that the members of each of these communities can be said to think broadly similarly about a range of issues. However, I can’t expect this to multiply up. I can’t expect the ‘disability community’ to act as one – increased Paralympic funding can be cheered in one part of it for obvious reasons, but other parts resent (the perception) that sports events dominate funding when so many lack basic facilities to live.

You wouldn’t say ‘the vegetarian community’ because it’s simply too diverse. You wouldn’t say ‘the single parent community’ because instinctively you think there are too many people (1.8 million people in fact) in it. Yet there “are over eleven million people with a limiting long term illness, impairment or disability in Great Britain” and to think that those eleven million people think and move as one block is an insult to the richness and diversity of each of those eleven million lives.

EDIT – some interesting comments from people on twitter- the orginal comments can be seen here, and I’ve put the screenshot below for your interest:

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But it’s more interesting to me where the negative comments come from… I think this is the only post I’ve ever had on Reddit to get negative upvotes, and this was the reasonably reasoned response.

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