Friday, July 5, 2013

What Makes a Disability?

It's time again for another one of those contemplative and potentially wandering posts stemmed from a day of restless sentiments of nothing to do. I was bored the other day, and I found myself testing the limits of my joint mobility, popping fingers out of their sockets and things like that as I am wont to do, when I decided to do some research on my hypermobility. You know, just another day...

It turns out I likely have a form of something called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which is a disorder that has six main varieties, but almost all types of EDS come from insufficient or faulty amounts of collagen. I fall into the hypermobility (with possible crossover into "classical") category, the most common and least severe type of EDS, marked by crazy loose joints and elastic skin. I have a hard time stretching after a workout and sometimes my joints slide out unexpectedly, but it's otherwise not too big of a deal for me. But what I thought was interesting when doing this research was that many people categorize EDS as a disability. I can understand the less common, more severe types of EDS, like vascular or kyphoscoliosis, characterized by fragile organs and blood vessels and progressive scoliosis, respectively, but I'm curious if people who experience hypermobile or classical EDS (classical involves more skin elasticity and less joint mobility than hypermobile) consider themselves disabled.

My party tricks.

This got me thinking about other conditions that some people call disabilities and others do not. For example, through my daily romp through the Twittersphere and less frequent journeys through other social media outlets, I've noticed that some people call depression a disability. I had never really thought of depression in that way, but it is an interesting take. Other common ones I've seen some debate about are dyslexia, scoliosis, epilepsy, dwarfism, and deafness.

It makes sense that in some instances, like dwarfism or hearing impairment, categorization of disability varies within the community. Both are considered disabilities by the ADA, but there is mixed sentiment within those communities. I think I might have mentioned in a previous post that, because I got involved with sign language and deaf culture before I got involved with the larger disabled community, I hadn't really thought of deafness as a disability. Now I'm not sure what to think of it. I don't necessarily believe it needs to be black and white—this is a disability and this is not—but it's interesting to think about what makes something a disability and what makes something not a disability in our eyes, either as individuals or as larger communites. 

Surely definitions from person to person, but can those definitions change as a person moves from group to group, or as a group becomes part of something larger? For example, I don't think I had an opinion one way or another about hearing impairment as a disability until I got into ASL. Then I hadn't thought of it as a disability, just a way of life. That opinion didn't necessarily change, but it became less definitive as I got involved with Kiwanis, became part of a different group. Could that definition become even more fluid, or perhaps more solid, as I think in terms of the Portland community, the Oregon community, or perhaps how it might change in Reno, or on a national or global scale? Would it even matter?

Bone Breaking
I don't consider my stretchy skin or loose joints a disability by any means (in fact, there is a style of street dance, “Bone Breaking,” that is entirely dependent on such joints), but others might really struggle with the condition. Does the same go for everything? What makes a disability a disability? Do we need these definitions? Am I out of the loop or, perhaps, out of line? I'm extremely curious what you all think about this. Please, please comment!

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