I wanted to reflect a little on yesterday’s experience at hospital and my feelings of estrangement and an army throughout the whole process of interacting with the staff there.
So the staff were pleasant; smiled, spoke to Karen and, at first glance, no distinction can be seen between the way I was treated and everyone else there. So why did I come away feeling slightly aggrieved?
A better person than I to answer this is Tom Shakespeare who in his article Cultural Representations of Disabled People: Dustbins for Disavowal? (1994) Offered three models of viewing how disabled people are seen in society.
The first model is purely ideological and shows how physiological impairment is not the sole determinant of whether someone is disabled in society but rather a prerequisite for a disabling condition. To “enjoy” the latter status one needs society to either fail to recognise the needs of the person with the impairment in the way it’s organised or to actively handicap people with it. For example, people’s physical mobility is not determined wholly by the ability to walk but by their access to things like the underground, trains, buses and cars. If these things aren’t designed to recognise the needs of particular groups of people such as wheelchair users than those people become excluded and disabled.
But Shakespeare rightly points out that the above model doesn’t fully explain the experience of disabled people. For example, those with severe facial disfigurement’s may functionally be no different from nondisabled people yet because of cultural factors that are actively discriminated against. Shakespeare referred to the theory of otherness to include this group and their experience in a way of determining some of the causes of disability and illustrated how the model has been used to explain sexism and racism.
“Repeatedly, de Beauvoir stresses that it is not biology, but the meaning attributed to biology, and also the way women view their biology, which is implicated in their subordination” (Shakespeare, 1994)
This approach chimed strongly with me but I still wouldn’t have been able to articulate my experience so clearly without reference to his third model because the first would only explain the situation adequately if I had not been able to get into the hospital because of physical or organisational barriers and the second if staff attitudes had been actively discriminatory. But this wasn’t the case.
Anomaly and Liminality
This model overlaps with otherness but recognises the duality of my experience. I am at one and the same time both a man with features that correspond with other men and that other humans can relate to, but I am clearly also different I move differently, look different and so I am different to others. Shakespeare quotes turner to explain my feelings.
“Liminal entities are neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention and ceremonial.”(Turner, 1969, p. 95, quoted by Shakespeare, 1994)
And it’s this experience that I have. I am at one and the same time both you and not you both the same and different. Thus the fact the nurses asked me question about how I move and toilet all amplified our differences and I think my problem yesterday was because I do expect the NHS staff who deal much more regularly with disabled people to know about these things and have some understanding but yet I still felt a very strong sense of an anomie and difference.
Shakespeare goes on to show how these models can explain how discrimination and prejudice work and I don’t I don’t plan to discuss these here rather I just wanted to reflect on yesterday’s experience and then represent that visually. Hence here is a better interpretation of yesterday rather than the images posted then.
The reason this image better reflects my experience is because of the inclusion of people within the frame. It shows clearly a clinical environment. But it’s a room being used for something other than it was designed for. Yet most waiting rooms have lots of chairs and this does not; there are a few scattered around the edges but that is all. In addition while one disabled person is shown clearly to the right of the frame another wheel is just present on opposite side. Hopefully all of this offers viewers a sense of oddity and suggests that while there is more than one person is in the room but they are not engaged with each other. These things, along with the strong sense of inside/outside offered by the windows and tree branches provides a strong evocation of oddity, separation and aloneness that I want to convey.
Tom Shakespeare (1994) Cultural Representation of Disabled People: Dustbins for
Disavowal?, Disability & Society, 9:3, 283-299,