Crips are not just crips

A Growing role for Disability Equality led Intersectionality within the Irish experience of rights-based practice.

It is important to recognise that Irish disabled people – us ‘crips’- are not just labelled by our perceived impairment category – I’m much more than ‘cerebral-palsy Peter. We come from all sections of Society – all age ranges, all ethnic groups (including Travellers, Hindu, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, atheist, etc), all genders, all sexual orientations and are married or single or just people demented with children. This diversity, or academically termed ‘Intersectionality’, will have practical implications for any strategy to identify effective rights-based approaches to attract and accommodate disabled people in their chosen communities.

The theory of Intersectionality is seen to be first coined in 1989 by feminists to explain the oppression of women, especially African-American women having less power than white middle class female academics. It has since expanded to be very much embraced by disabled activists and disabled academics.

While Irish disability activists have long recognised the role of class, gender, ethnicity, etc in addressing inequalities for & with disabled people, Irish academia and State bodies have relatively recently only sought to uncover the ways multiple identities that can create and extenuate oppression of disabled people in Ireland. History has shown that it is not enough to say that intolerance or ‘special care’ of disabled people can be explained by lone reference to the economic factors of access to mainstream jobs or mainstream education. As well as being a means to skills and contemplation or Thinking-as-an-Action, Intersectionality informed processes are inevitably political: they show the means of carrying out rights-based expressions with social and cultural transformation. But, Intersectionality can also be a handicap and another medical model barrier.

A medical model led approach to Intersectionality only sees a combination of two or more impairments as identifying the disabled person being a bigger problem than the single impairment One-Problem. The medical model & Intersectionality would view a double impairment as a double problem, such as a Spina-bifida & Learning-Disability impairment led ‘case-study’, ignorant of the bigger impact of a ‘poor’ local authority housing estate class background. I can confidently wave that working-class torch, because I had a great childhood growing up in a northside Dublin Corporation housing estate, where we didn’t know that poverty could be a bigger handicap than having an impairment. Medical model led Intersectionality thinking is impairment led and does not recognise a role for class, gender, ethnicity, etc. Social model led practice for & with disabled people calls for cultural & social Transformation led Intersectionality, where class, gender, ethnicity, etc outweigh impairment led narratives.

Irish social model open-endedness of crisis & opportunity interpretations is vital to creative thought in Intersectionality application. Another primary objective of social model led Intersectionality processes with disabled people is to encourage ambiguity – unlike case work in litigation or ‘Care’, there is no one clear interpretation of most disability equality project processes. Disability equality led Intersectionality can also to encourage ambiguity as opposed to the homogenous ‘the disabled’ and allow no one clear interpretation of medicinal or social care professionals fawning ‘disability’ expert narratives.

Social model grounded disability equality approaches to Intersectionality can lead to an open-endedness that is vital to creative thought. Intersectionality thinking can feed into disability access programmes and add to the transitive process experienced by disabled participants. Access facilitators and disabled participants are learning together, establishing a dialogue about the layered make-up of individual human beings. So, I’m much more than a person with cerebral palsy… I’m white, male, mid-50s, heterosexual (to-date), runs around Leitrim in tight lycra shorts, lectures at college and lectures at my adult children. Social model Intersectionality is fun… and embarrassing.

The Intersectionality informed work facilitates the participating disabled person to discover that which they carry within them, both individually and, more importantly, as a collective.

Disability equality approaches to Intersectionality also encourage us to cherish intuition, uncertainty, and creativity and to search constantly for new ideas; to break rules and find unorthodox ways of approaching contemporary disabling issues. Engaging disability equality led Intersectionality with access or community projects takes us beyond an impairment rule-of-law mentality to a broader idea of what constitutes effective human rights. This is one way that art can engage Intersectionality with the world of Law-makers to transform the stories of disabled people within the realms of mainstream communities.

Writer’s Disability Equality Academia Background

Peter graduated from Trinity College with an English Honours degree (1990) and followed this with an MA in Film & TV Studies at Dublin City University (1992) and a Higher Diploma in Adult Education & Community Development from Maynooth College (1993). Following an MA Distinction, Peter has continued his further education with H. Dips. in Disability Studies at University of Hertfordshire and an arts mentoring H. Dip from European Artsweb. Peter is also a part-time NUI lecturer and module writer of Disability Equality and Advocacy Studies at St. Angela’s College Sligo NUIG. He also supervises a number of MA students and he mentors leaders in mainstream community & voluntary Orgs.

This blog and other blogs are views expressed by the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of the board of CIL.